Is Rock Climbing Safe? Real Studies may Suprise You.

Rock Climbing has a dangerous reputation but I have been climbing for 5 years with no serious injuries from it so I dug into the Statistics…

Rock climbing RiskGymnastics Risk
Avg 0.1% risk of serious accidentAvg. 1.95% risk of serious accident

Is Rock Climbing Safe? Rock climbing is considered an ‘extreme sport’. studies concluded each climber has a 0.1% risk of serious accident. A Prospective Analysis of 515,337 Indoor Climbing Wall Visits in 5 Years came to the conclusion that Indoor climbing has a low risk of acute injury. Especially in comparison to Sports generally considered much safer, Like Gymnastics.

But there is so many different discliplines and the data is limited, so let me develop…

Indoor climbing is considered much safer than the outdoor counterparts, and the much riskier disciplines like Deep Water Solo and Traditional climbing.

These statistics are much harder to get because not all participants are recorded. So I scoured a few studies and make a conclusion for you.

Outdoor Climbing injury Statistics

for the comparisons I am using; a paper on a busy german climbing gymOpens in a new tab., that they tracked for 5 years, and a 201 person participant summary of climbing injuriesOpens in a new tab.. Everyone had electronic devices to enter and leave so the time spent is fairly accurate, and the second study recruited the climbers.

Although plenty of climbers check in and can spend half or more of there total session just chatting or stretching in a non climbing area, and i dont think they could account for this in the 5 year climbing centre study study could have skewed data for how long people were ACTUALLY climbing, and therefore at risk.

Indoor Study

so that indoor study (linked hereOpens in a new tab.) measured the hours people were in the climbing gym and found that there were 0.02 injuries per 1000 hours.

There were 30 total incidents over the 5 years, some of which were minor ankle rolls, and some more serious incidents with groundfalls. Fortunately none of them were fatal.

50% of the injuries were grade 2 or lower meaning they were ‘Moderate injury or illness’ Meaning 15 of the incidents were between tendon ruptures and fractures, all healing without permanent damage.

These accidents are nothing compared to the kinds of accidents that could be happening, or people not into rock climbing might assume.

Accidents like tendon ruptures are mostly avoidable and i wouldnt even really considder them a ‘Accident’

Of course there devestating for a climber, but there nothing compared to breaking bones or taking ground falls.

This will be our baseline for comparison with the Gymnastics Study we have on injury frequency.

I chose gymnastics because its a fairly common sport and this is how the article began, with a comparison to Gymnastics.

Outdoor Study

The outdoor studyOpens in a new tab. im using recruited 201 active climbers from 5 outdoor and 6 indoor centres and measured there injuries over a one year period.

From 2007 to 2011 they found 50% of climbers sustained one or less injures in the last 12 months causing 271 acute injures.

10% or 20 peoples injuries were from Groundfalls,

33% were from chronic overuse injuries like tendonitis in the elbows,

and 57 people or 28% had injuries from strenuous climbing moves.

This may sound like a lot but this means only ten percent of incidents were from the most severe and of the risks; a groundfall.

If we make some assumtions from those numbers we can conlude climbing for a year has an average risk of 0.1% for serious accidents per climber.

Im sure this is much lower than my mum assumes at least!

While acute injuries are still no good and im sure many people had some bad injuries, This is a much less ‘dangerous’ looking sport than we might have assumed.

The acute injuries like ruptures and overuse injuries can be minimised to a certain extent by looking after our bodies, taking rest and doing the excersises to ‘prehab’ our strained tendons.

However they still happened and a fully ruptured tendon can take MONTHS to heal, and this is terrible for a climber.

At least it wasnt a ground fall though.

Disclaimer

I am a climber and have had no severe injuries at all, so you definetly can stay safe climbing.

The results are for you to conclude, I made this comparison and break down the studies for you to know really what your potentially getting into.

Gymnastics paper

My gymnast friend brought up once how much more ‘Dangerous’ Gymnastics was.

Although the potential injuries in climbing look immediately worse, the actual risk seems to be much lower than we might first assume.

using a Gymnastics paperOpens in a new tab. for comparison its fair to say gymnastics IS much more ‘Dangerous’

I think most parents would rather there child try gymnastics instead of climbing, considering how ‘dangerous’ climbing is.

The studies are only from 2019 to 2021 but there is much more participation in gymnastics and the results are much more accurate.

Across the numerous seperate papers they use in this article, the Incidents range from 0.03 to 3.6 per gymnast per 1000 hours!

So the safest Gymnastics study was 0.01 times more likely to result in than the climbing study, and the 3.6 study is 18 TIMES MORE DANGEROUS!

Making sense of the numbers

so the indoor climbing study from germany concluded there was a 0.02 in 1000 risk of injury.

What does that actually mean though?

The total study measures 1,438,600 hours of climbing time or 164 YEARS of climbing time.

There was 30 incidents in this whole time.

Thats a injury every 50,000 ish hours!

Id say thats a pretty considerable amount considering the ‘10,000 hours’ figure generally accepted as the amount of practice for MASTERY in anything.

To put into perspective, if you climbed 3 times a week for 5 hours each session, it would take you 64 YEARS to have your first accident, statistically.

And this could be a groundfall, or tendonitits and probably much more likely tendonitis after all that climbing!

Fatalities

While i couldnt find statistics from anywhere for this, i think its worth mentioning while gymnastics is much more likely to result in injury.

i have a hunch there are more climbing fatalities than in gymnastics because of the height and often severe nature of climbing.

There were no records in iether study, but a indoor Gym and a questionare wont give us the full picture as most of the fatalities are outside, related to rappelling.

lets see how this compares to Gymnastic statistics, because ive got a feeling gymnastics is much more dangerous!

Compared to the Gymnastics Statistics

In the Gymnastics study they found there was actually 0.3 to 3.6 INJURIES PER GYMNAST.

I actually read the studyOpens in a new tab. wrong and thought those figures were per 1000 hours.

it actually means, and please dont trust my math, theres 1.95 injuries for each gymnast.

per gymnast! and in the whole 5 years climbing, there were 30 incidents TOTAL.

Unfortunately there is no time frame for the gymnastic study.

How can i make climbing Safe?

To minimise the risks as much as possible takes sensible decisions and the proper equipment.

Just staying aware of the risks will help you stay safe.

‘climbing is as safe as you make it’

A lot of climbers get complacent after a year or so climbing, and this will increase your risks.

Based on a 14 year study from ColoradoOpens in a new tab., there were a few distinct reasons most of the accidents occured.

20% of all the acidents over this period resulted from Belay accidents.

There are a few simple things you can and should be doing to minimise these kinds of risks,

  • Having an assisted breaking device
  • Tying a knot in the end of your rope
  • Wearing a helmet

Assisted device

Having an assisted breaking device like the Mammut Smart (EpicTV link) can help keep you safe by holding the rope for you if there was an accident.

Its very realistic a climber can pull a rock off onto his belayer, knocking them unconcious, and without a assisted or breaking device the climber would be dropped.

knot in end of rope

Most of the fatal accidents are when climbers are rappelling, its cold or its getting dark and were complacent.

You can lower yourself right off the end of the rope.

Dont think theres no way you could let that happen, it cost the life of many professional climbers.

Wear a helmet

Wearing a helmet is one of the easiest things you can do.

My Helmet (EpicTV linkOpens in a new tab.) Weights only 205 Grams!

You can just forget about it, and it will keep you safe

Theres really no reason not to wear one, ive seen as least 2 people cut there heads from rock falls.

Those two were lucky… if the rocks were any bigger they could have died right there.

Conclusion

so, i think its fair to say climbing is actually a pretty safe sport. there were 30 total accidents, only 15 stage 3 or up.

for every 50,000 hours you climb your likely to have one accident statistically.

i have been climbing for 5 years, and while I have had some overuse injuries, I have never had any serious injuries luckily.

you might see your own injury at the crag, you could break a wrist on the way in, they definetly happen, especially outdoors.

You do have to respect your in an dangerous environment and injuries occur pretty often.

But on the whole climbing is pretty safe!

18 times less ‘dangerous’ than gymnastics For comparison.

Conclusion

I hope you have enjoyed this article and got some value from it!

Let me know if theres anything specific you want me to write,

or any critisism, just leave a comment!

See you in the next one.

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