Rock climbing is an increasingly popular sport in the U.S., with approximately nine
million participants annually. The sport holds an inherent risk of falls and stress-related
injuries. As indoor climbing facilities become more common, more people are participating
in the sport.
The objective of this study is to describe the prevalence, characteristics, and trends
of rock climbing–related injuries treated in U.S. emergency departments from 1990
A retrospective analysis was conducted using data from the National Electronic Injury
Surveillance System (NEISS) of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for all
ages from 1990 through 2007. Sample weights provided by NEISS were used to calculate
national estimates of rock climbing–related injuries. Trend significance of the number
of rock climbing–related injuries over time was analyzed using linear regression.
Analysis was conducted in 2008.
An estimated 40,282 patients were treated in emergency departments for rock climbing–related
injuries in the U.S. over the 18-year period. Patients aged 20–39 years accounted
for more than half of all injuries. Fractures, sprains, and strains accounted for
the largest portion of injuries (29.0% and 28.6%, respectively). The lower extremities
were the most frequently injured body part, accounting for 46.3% of all injuries;
ankle injuries accounted for 19.2%. Men were more likely to sustain lacerations (OR=1.65;
95% CI=1.03, 2.67) and fractures (OR=1.54; 95% CI=1.10, 2.17), whereas women were
more likely to sustain a sprain or strain (OR=1.68; 95% CI=1.13, 2.51). Overexertion
injuries were more likely to occur to the upper extremities (OR=5.32; 95% CI=1.99,
14.23). Falls were responsible for three quarters of all injuries (77.5%). Overall,
11.3% of patients were hospitalized.
Our results indicate that the most common rock climbing–related injuries are to the
lower extremities and are fractures, sprains, and strains. More research is needed
to determine how rock-climbers' characteristics, climbing setting, style of climbing,
and use of safety equipment and training may affect their risk for certain injury