A good tape job and impeccable technique can help you avoid scrapes and abrasions, but for tendon and muscle wear and tear, don't discount the benefit of sport-specific massage. Climbing puts strain on your arms, neck, shoulders, hands and feet, not to mention both your lower and upper back. Not only can you expect day-to-day tenderness when you climb, but many days on the rock can result in overuse injuries. Here are a few tips for self-massage that can help keep your body in tune, and hopefully, pain- and injury-free. You may not get the same relief as if you contracted with a massage therapist on a weekly basis, but with a little practice, you can master enough self-help therapy to keep your body running smoothly. Not only can timely self massage help to relieve stiff, sore muscles, but it can also help to prevent injury and speed up recovery.
A good part of self-massage is common sense. Don't push too hard on very sore areas and always lighten pressure around joints. You can rub muscles and tendons both with, and across their fibers. Use long strokes when you are massaging the length of a muscle, and shorter, more brisk strokes for cross-fiber therapy. Oil makes for a smooth rub, but may not be appropriate between climbs. Here are a few tips from top sports massage guru, Joan Johnson. Her book, The Healing Art of Sports Massage (Rodale Press, 1995) is a terrific primer on massage technique (both for self-massage and working on others) for a variety of sports.
Biceps - Use your right hand to massage your left biceps and vice versa. Reach across your body and grasp your biceps, thumb up. Massage your biceps with longitudinal strokes from the elbow up toward your armpit. Continue to the upper biceps, pressing your thumb transversely into the junction of the biceps muscles. Continue to exert gentle pressure with your thumb as you move your hand upward along the anterior deltoid on the underside of your arm.
Forearm - This massage works wonders to reduce inflammation after a climb, but can also help to alleviate a flash pump mid-route. Grasp your forearm palm up with your opposite hand. Moving from wrist to elbow, massage your arm with your fingers and thumb. Turn your palm down, and repeat the massage. Use your thumb to exert deeper pressure on trigger points for several seconds at a time.
Triceps - You can reach your triceps by placing your arm in front of your body and grasping it above your elbow with your other arm - the massaging arm should be bent at a 90-degree angle at the elbow. Work down from behind your shoulder toward your elbow with your fingertips while slowly straightening your arm. Don't push too hard with the area just above your elbow where the triceps muscle converges at the triceps tendon.