How to heal hands after rock climbing
Whether you’re just starting your rock climbing fixation or have been at it for years, your hands are going to get sore. In fact, I’m writing this post the day after a hard bouldering and hangboard session. I woke up with sore biceps, sore abs (hangboards, I tell ya), and raw hands. I also nailed the back of my right hand on a hold as I was topping out a problem, so I iced that last night.
So what do you do to heal your hands after rock climbing?
We’re going to cover a few ways:
- At the end of a session
- Balms and salves
- When all else fails
At the end of a session
You’ve finished your session. Your hands hurt to straighten, and you love the feeling.
Right now is what determines if your hands will be completely wrecked tomorrow or if you’ll be on your way to healing.
Directly after you finish climbing, you need to do two things:
- Wash all climbing chalk off your hands with soap and warm (as warm as you can stand) water;
- Apply lotion
Climbing chalk does one thing really well – it dries out your hands so that you can grip whatever you are climbing. But that’s a challenge to keeping your hands soft and uncracked, because chalk is literally meant to dry out your hands!
So, go to the bathroom (or your gym’s sink area, or take a Nalgene or Hydroflask if out at the crag) and wash your hands with soap and as warm of water as you can stand. Get all of that chalk off your hands then dry them well (I like this shammy towel from REI).
I hate lotion, but have come to accept its usefulness in keeping my hands uncracked and ready to climb again in a couple of days.
Right after you wash and thoroughly dry your hands, apply lotion to them to keep the cracks at bay.
If you’re like me and hate hate hate greasy lotion, Aveeno is the best I’ve found that moisturizes and doesn’t leave your hands feeling like they are coated in latex.
Balms and salves
The day after your session, your hands will probably feel a bit raw. That’s totally natural, and you can definitely do something about it to aid them in healing faster.
A note for you – raw hands really hurt if you pick up something warm. This happens to me almost every day after climbing when I pick up my coffee percolator from the stove. So be forewarned.
I like the Metolius Hand Repair Balm because it comes in a tiny canister and can be easily thrown into the side pocket of your climbing bag (you do have a dedicated climbing bag, don’t you?).
Apply your hand salve of choice a couple of times a day for a few days after you climb, and your hands will thank you for it.
When all else fails
If you’ve washed your hands and dried them and applied your climbing salve and yet your hands still hurt (or, you’ve just left the gym and you’re thirsty), I’ve found one of the best ways to instantly make your hands feel better – wrap them around something cold.
I first discovered this when living in New York City and climbing at Brooklyn Boulders (review forthcoming). My friend and I got on the subway (R train) to go back to a major transit hub in Brooklyn to grab our respective lines home.
I hadn’t climbed in almost a year, and so my hands really hurt. I grabbed onto the vertical pole in the subway to steady myself.
That’s not an “Oh my god this hurts”. That’s a “Holy crap this feels so good” aahhhhh.
A subway pole works great. A cold beer works even better (because it’s refreshing!).
Point is, find something cold to wrap your hands around and you’ll feel amazing.
What have you found that helps your hands recover?