If you Google “climber’s hands” right now, you’re going to get a bunch of pictures of either bloody fingers or taped up fingers. So what’s with the tape. Why do climbers tape their hands?
There are two main reasons climbers use tape while they’re climbing; The first reason is for skin issues such as flapper and tares. If you get torn skin and want to keep climbing you can use tape to protect the injured skin. The second reason is for tendons to prevent injuries and to prevent tendon blowouts. Recently, however, research has shown that tape has little impact on tendon injury prevention and thus should be used sparingly, if at all.
Using Tape For Skin Injuries
When climbers get a flapper or a split (the skin splits apart and looks like a nasty papercut), they will often tape the affected area so the texture of the holds don’t hurt that skin more. Plus, it decreases the sensitivity of that skin, which is good when it comes to decreasing pain while still being able to climb.
There’s two negative sides to taping your fingers for skin injuries. First, the sensitivity that I mentioned decreasing can help you keep climbing, but it can also be negative because you no longer have that biofeedback regarding the holds you are gripping and guaging if you are slipping.
The second negative reason is that the more you use tape, the less your skin is going to adapt to the texture of climbing indoors or outdoors. If your skin doesn’t increase endurance, then it will be hard to do any long climbing sessions and you may always leave the gym with painful skin.
So it’s ideal to minimize the use of tape, especially when you’re first getting into climbing.
For me, if I take a break from climbing and then go back to it at the same rigorous schedule I’ve trained at before, I always notice my skin peeling like a snake losing it’s skin.
If I get tares or splits, I do tape my finger. However, if I get a flapper, I tend to cut the climbing session at that point and give my skin the 3ish days it takes to recover. Sometimes, if my skin is still fresh and still healing from a flap, I’ll tape the new skin to prevent it from re-injury.
Tips for taping splits and tares
If you are taping the tip of your finger, apply a vertical piece to the fingertip and then use an x formation to ensure the tape doesn’t fall off. If you just do horizontal tape on the end of your finger, it will likely come off as you climb.
Regarding the direction of the tape, ensure that you start at the outer end of your finger and work your wat toward the knuckle/palm to ensure you don’t interrupt blood flow.
To ensure you are still getting blood flow to the end of your fingers, pitch the end of your finger – if it remains white for a few seconds, you may not be getting enough blood flow to the tip of your fingers and you should re-tape them.
To ensure you can skill bend your fingers and have full motion while climbing, bend your fingers slightly while you are taping.
If possible, avoid putting tape where your finger actually bends.
Making sure that your skin is clean before you start taping. Otherwise, the tape won’t stick to your skin. The best thing to do is to wash your hands water and soap but if you don’t have access to soap, you can spray your hands down with water from your water bottle.
If the split is vertical/going down, then make sure that you are taping horizontal. If the split is horizontal, apply a vertical piece of tape before taping around in a horizontal motion.
Tips for taping flappers
If you have a flapper and you tape directly on that flapper, it’s likely that the tape will stick to that flapper and when you take the tape off, it will tear the flapper off.
Your skin is the best source of protection against that underneath layer while it’s healing so it’s ideal to maintain your flapper for improved recovery time.
You can use a little piece of tape upside down against the skin as a barrier from the sticky tape to the flapper. If you do this, however, make sure that you tape around the area really well so it doesn’t move and cause friction or rub against the flapper. Friction may make the flapper get worse.
Taping injured tendons
There are ways to tape your fingers if you have an injured tendon. However, there have been multiple studies suggesting that the force you put on your tendons while climbing is much higher than the support that tape can provide. With that being the case, avoid taping injured tendons and take a break from climbing instead to allow full recovery of your tendons.
Hooper’s beta did an awesome video about this and whether or not tape actually helps prevent tendon injuries. And he pointed out that there’s been studies to show that it’s only an 11% decrease in the stress on your tendons.
What tape should you use?
Athletic tape is different from the tape you should be using for climbing fingers and skin. I used to use black diamond tape, which was easy to tear pieces off at a certain thickness but I found that I always needed the same thickness so I switched to Matilious tape, which is fun colors and the exact thickness I need for my fingers.