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Four secrets to early recovery from a finger pulley injury

One of the most common injuries avid climbers will experience is a tear to an annular pulley along one of their fingers. This structure helps to keep tendons in place. When placing excessive weight loads onto fingers, such as while reaching into pockets on the wall, the risk is higher. A pulley tear is often associated with a popping sound, pain, and swelling around the finger. It takes some time to heal, but taking care of the injury can reduce the time to recover. I will be revealing to you four secrets that will help you get back out there faster with some basic exercises and useful tips.

The first things to consider are applying ice and taking time to rest it. Icing the finger for 15-20 minutes 2-3x/day aids in reducing swelling, making it easier to move. Rest by avoiding excessive stressful loads on the hand. Major strength activities are a bad idea at this point in time. Instead, use your time by going through a few exercises to keep the fingers mobile and stretched.

Gentle stretches of the fingers are helpful. Take your fingers and gently push them back into extension. Hold for 20 seconds or more if able and try that 5 times. Go the opposite way by trying to make a fist. If your injured finger can’t make it all the way into a fist, give it a little pressure to stretch it. Again, this should be gentle, without drastically increasing pain levels.

Another handy (pun not intended) exercise is to try tendon glides. Start with your palm facing outward, fingers straight. Curl your fingers over so that the tips of your fingers are pointing straight down. Both knuckles in the fingers will be bent at this point. Follow this up with straightening the fingers out, but bending at the first knuckle. From this spot, then bend the middle knuckle. Return to starting position after that. Confused? Follow this link to watch a video I made of this exercise.

The last exercise I will cover today is thumb opposition. Simply take your thumb and index finger to reach the other to make contact with the tips. Then do the same with the thumb and middle finger. Then the ring finger and, finally, the pinky. Repeat the process several times. This helps to maintain and improve dexterity in your hand.

Once ready, return to sport should be gradual. Light strengthening exercises will be incorporated. After graduating from that, try some hang boarding on big holds before easing into some easy routes that also have easy handholds. For best results, this should be done under the guidance of a rehabilitation and sports professional. Returning too quickly and with poor technique increases the likelihood of re-injury. Don’t let that happen to you! Call today to get help with your finger injury! I will be posting some exercises in the future to progress yourself and help get you back on the crag. If you want more info, please email me at or reach out on Backcountry Physical Therapy’s social media pages. Be sure to check back on the website for more blog posts and follow us on social media for helpful tips to keep yourself pain-free!

a man standing with his arms crossed in front of him.

Dr. Scott Runyon

Backcountry Physical Therapy

We Help Mountain Athletes Not Only Recover From Injuries, But Build Them Back Stronger Than They Were Before, So That Injuries Are Less Likely To Happen Again!