Ask Dr J – Issue 184 – Chin In, Tits Out

What’s Up With Your Hunchback?

What’s up with those climbers who look honed as hell, but the minute they step off the rock, they turn into the Hunchback of Notre Dame?

Grectmeme | Rock and Ice Forum


Climbers, especially those bloody Young Ones, are generally lazy bums unable to give energy to anything that is not climbing. This includes healthy posture. They slink around, keeping a low profile on the fringe of society. Eventually that posture becomes their identity. The body follows the mind. I could be wrong (but probably not!).

The other possibility involves the interplay of multifarious biomechanical forces that would take a thesis to explain. Basically it comes down to a chicken or egg situation between pelvic tilt and thoracic curve. In climbers, tight internal rotators at the shoulder, the result of always pulling down, are a likely catalyst by pulling the shoulders down and forward, but even this is far from a given in any particular case.

Likewise, the solution is wide and varied. The simplest approach is to do yoga (kama sutra!), cross train (defense techniques like Brazilian jujitsu and Oompa Loompa mud wrestling are especially effective), and whenever you remember: Chin in, tits out!



I’m 34 and have three herniated discs in my back (prior to starting climbing, nine months ago). I have degenerative disc disease, a narrow spinal column and no promise that surgery will help. On days I climb, I’m pain free. On days I don’t, my pain ramps right up. Are there moves I should avoid, or things I can be doing to improve my situation? My doc heard I climbed and said to do as much of it as I could, especially if it was helping—and it sure is.

Solacerock | Rock and Ice Forum


There are two things that will help you: strength and more strength. There is nothing like a teaspoon of fear to generate strength and motor control in all sorts of functionally dyslexic positions. Ironically, it may also cause you some horrid injuries. The line is not so much fine as it is perforated. Your body may look and feel quite strong and then BANG!

I’d rather slam my head in a car door than have spinal surgery. Many report similar therapeutic results. At least there is no delusional hope. Surgery will definitely hurt and there is little chance it will improve your back. That said, if your disc issues suddenly advance, for instance bowel or urinary disturbances, return to the surgeon’s infirmary and develop a taste for Humble Pie.

Climbing is awesome and I am at pains to tell anyone to stop unless there is an overriding chance of further damage no matter how you try to mitigate the risks. Although the risks of injury are higher for you, the potential benefit is inordinately greater.

You will have your ups and downs, but you are trading in the futures market and strength is the commodity you want more of. Daily function will improve, chronic pain will recede, and the rate of disc degeneration should slow. I would not project hard. Trying one move repeatedly will end in tears. Also, don’t hold your breath. As you may have already realized, holding your breath and straining, be it climbing or crapping, is a recipe for discogenic disaster. Breathe buddy, breathe! Preferably through your nose. For reasons I don’t understand, nose breathing not only regulates respiration, it generally keeps you in a more relaxed frame of mind.

A word of warning, you are in the danger zone. Not only are you carrying some serious injuries already, you are new to climbing. Like a cannibalistic tribe, climbing will gnaw on your tendons and eventually spit them out.



I was pulling on a big sloper with my feet way under me when I felt a crunch and heard a pop in my middle finger between my knuckle in my hand and the first joint in my finger. It immediately hurt (but not a ton) and later there was swelling. I took ibuprofen and iced it. Before bed I taped it to keep the swelling down. Today the pain is not as localized, but is an overall ache in my hand. The same thing happened several months ago. What gives?

Tracy Wilson | Carbondale, CO

It’s cool to be special, and snapping an A2 pulley in an open-hand position rather than a crimp is special indeed. The hold must have been reasonably angled such that you were flexing the metacarpophalangeal joints (the ones at the base of your fingers, just inside your palm). The popping noise, pain and swelling pattern probably means the full monty: ruptured.

Clearly you have been on the rough seas for a wee while. Tearing a second pulley (or the same one) in such a short time is not so much a wake-up call as it is a torpedo barreling through your porthole—something is amiss.

Generating sufficient force in this position to rupture a healthy pulley is unlikely. Which places you in one of two scenarios.

Option 1: You have been marauding through the Land of Overtraining and the incumbent warlord has sliced you up. He is toying with you. Get the fuck out of there!

Option 2: You are a mutant languishing in the Age of Stupid, with the voracious bite of a T-rex but the brains of an anemone. In other words, you are biting off more than you can chew. Jump the evolutionary queue and start a training program.

Stretch out your joints so as to allow even loading of the pulleys. When a finger joint is tight and accessory motions like shearing are reduced, the pulley can be unevenly loaded along its length, precipitating a tear from the end of more load. There is a stretching video on my web page (drjuliansaunders. com). There is also an article on taping that will help you manage your return to climbing. The month it will take to repair this pulley is less of a concern than the months it will take to properly strengthen all of them.