Factors influencing osteological changes in the hands and fingers of rock climbers


Dr Adam D. Sylvester, 2007 Woodlyn Drive #102, Fredericksburg, VA 22401, USA. T: +1 865 974 4408; F: +1 865 974 2686, E: asylvest@utk.edu


This study examines the osteological changes in the hands and fingers of rock climbers that result from intense, long-term mechanical stress placed on these bones. Specifically, it examines whether rock climbing leads to metacarpal and phalange modelling in the form of increased cortical thickness as well as joint changes associated with osteoarthritis. This study also attempts to identify specific climbing-related factors that may influence these changes, including climbing intensity and frequency of different styles of climbing. Radiographs of both hands were taken for each participant and were scored for radiographic signs of osteoarthritis using an atlas method. Total width and medullary width were measured directly on radiographs using digital calipers and used to calculate cross-sectional area and second moment of area based on a ring model. We compared 27 recreational rock climbers and 35 non-climbers for four measures of bone strength and dimensions (cross-sectional area, second moment of area, total width and medullary width) and osteoarthritis. A chi-squared test for independence was used to compare climber and non-climber osteoarthritis scores. For each measure of bone strength climbers and non-climbers were compared using a manova test. Significant manova tests were followed by principal components analysis (PCA) and individual anova tests performed on principal components with eigenvalues greater than one. A second PCA was performed on the climber subsample and the first principal component was then used as the dependent variable in linear regression variable selection procedures to determine which climbing-related variables affect bone thickness. The results suggest that climbers are not at an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis compared with non-climbers. Climbers, however, do have greater cross-sectional area as well as second moment of area. Greater total width, but not meduallary width, indicates that additional bone is deposited subperiosteally. 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.