Sprains, strain, and fractures of the lower extremities--the foot and the ankle--are, according to American Journal of Preventative Medicine, the most common injury to rock climbers. Yesterday I found that out first-hand again. I've had a lot of sprained ankles and even a very bad ankle fracture during my forty-plus years of climbing, all caused by landing after a climbing or bouldering fall.
Yesterday, three of us were climbing at the Ice Cream Parlor, a popular slabby sandstone wall south of Moab, Utah. We had already done four routes, including a couple 5.10s. On the last route before we were going to leave and go climb a nearby desert spire, Bill Springer was leading a face climbing route. The crux was a couple thin moves above a bolt to a jug below the anchors.
Bill stepped up, placing his foot above the bolt. As he stood up, the rope went under his right foot and up to his harness. The rope's drag caused him to lose his balance and fall. The rope under his foot yanked him into a sideways fall, catching his left foot beneath him and badly spraining his forefoot. Immediately he was in pain and lowered down. The ankle quickly swelled up as we helped Bill down the steep quarter-mile-long trail back to the truck.
Since ankle sprains are such a common climbing injury, you should know what to do if one happens to a buddy or yourself. Foot doctors recommend P.R.I.C.E.--Protect. Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevate.
Protect the ankle with a brace. Rest the ankle by not walking on it or moving it if it hurts. Ice is regularly applied for 30 minutes at a time for the first 48 hours after the sprain. Compression is used by applying an ACE bandage wrap or a different compressive dressing to reduce swelling. Elevate the ankle above your head for the first day and at night.
If your ankle continues to bother you or swelling doesn't go down after 48 hours, go see a foot and ankle specialist. Many times there are chip fractures or other small fractures that aren't noticed in an emergency room visit.
In the meantime, be careful when you're climbing. Ankle sprains take a long time to recover. Usually months are required. It was a fast and unfortunate accident that Bill suffered, and it's going to take him a while to get back to leading those 5.10s.
Photographs above: (Top) Bill Springer grimaces in pain after a bad ankle sprain at the Ice Cream Parlor. (Bottom) Bill cranking hard just before the fall. Photographs © Stewart M. Green.