Rock climbing not linked to arthritis

by Tom Markiewicz on November 13, 2006

A University of Tennessee study has shown that rock climbing does not increase the risk of osteoarthritis in the hands and fingers (Forbes). This is good news for climbers because even if the reverse were true and climbing did cause arthritis, we wouldn’t stop climbing anyway…

The researchers compared 27 rock climbers and 35 non-climbers to determine if the long-term stress placed on the hand and finger bones of climbers caused changes associated with osteoarthritis.

The study also examined whether climbing intensity and frequency of different styles of climbing might influence changes in hand and finger bones.

“Radiographs of both hands were taken for each participant and were scored for radiographic signs of osteoarthritis using an atlas method,” researcher Adam Sylvester, of the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering at the university, said in a prepared statement.

“We compared 27 recreational rock climbers and 35 non-climbers for four measures of bone strength and dimensions and osteoarthritis. The results suggest that climbers are not at an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis compared with non-climbers,” Sylvester said.

He continued: “Climber’s finger and hand bones are, however, greater in cross-sectional area and total width, indicating that additional bone is being deposited on the external surface, not usually seen in adults. The strength of the finger and hand bones are correlated with styles of climbing that emphasize athletic difficulty. Significant predictors include the highest levels achieved in bouldering and sport climbing.”

The study was published in the November issue of the Journal of Anatomy.

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