Learning how to deal with rock climbing flappers is an important rite of passage.
If you are new at rock climbing, or if you are not a regular, you have surely had uncomfortable experiences with skin tears. The skin cannot be overlooked when we climb. It’s our point of contact with the rock and all external environment, and let’s not forget, it’s the largest organ of the human body.
One of the worst cases of skin tearing during climbing is the flapper. No one likes a piece of skin dangling from their hand, especially when you are on a climbing trip, or even when you simply want to have a longer climbing session at the gym.
Handling climbing skin injuries is something all climbers should be familiar with because we all need to do it at some point. We will look at what can cause and prevent climbing flappers. We will also talk about treating flappers and using the climbing tape and the h tape method. Flapper healing time can be quite long, so our tips will definitely help you.
What Are Rock Climbing Flappers?
The rock climbing flapper is the piece of skin hanging from your hand injury! It’s usually on the fingers, between your knuckles, or on the top of the palm under the fingers. The flapper varies in depth and size, but many times it can affect not only your climbing session and the ones to come, but it can also annoy you in your daily activities.
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What Causes Rock Climbing Flappers?
Many factors are usually combined to cause a flapper.
Experience and Conditioning of Skin
If you are new at climbing or you haven’t climbed in a while, your skin is tender and more susceptible to injury by friction with the wall or rock.
After only a few sessions of more conservative climbing, your skin will gradually harden, it won’t feel so sore, and flappers will be a rarer phenomenon.
However, even if you climb often, you run the risk of getting flappers. If you have bulging calluses or blisters on your hands and fingers, they can get caught on the rock or a hold. The good thing is that if you already have a blister or callus, you can tend to them before you start a climb, and you have the chance to prevent a flapper.
Type of Skin
If you have drier skin, it’s easier to get a flapper, especially if you don’t take good care of your hands. If you have a callus, for example, and its outer surface is rougher because of your dry skin, it’s easier for it to get caught and torn.
Climbing Technique and Holds
Dynamic movements and swinging on jugs are usually the culprits that can cause your skin to tear. Aggressive readjustment of your hand after you grab a hold can also cause flappers since it creates a lot of friction against your hand’s tender skin or on an existing injury or blister. The same can happen when you slip and fall off a hold.
Generally, bigger holds, like jugs, tend to cause flappers more often, especially on the top of your palms.
How Do You Treat or Care For Climbing Flappers?
The skin can heal nicely on its own, and faster than you think, as long as you provide it with the necessary conditions.
1. Before tending to your flapper, you should wash your hands with water and some soap. Wash with care to avoid pulling the flapper, and just try to wash off any blood or chalk. You can also use antiseptic powder or cream.
2. Opinions vary on removing or keeping the flapper. We will discuss this further, so read on!
3. Keeping climbing flappers moist helps with discomfort. The skin under the flapper is usually very tender, no matter how deep the tear is. If the flapper dries out, its surface will feel rough on the skin below it, and it may cause you pain. You can also use a climbing balm to keep it moist, as even after healing, it keeps cracking and getting caught in your clothes.
4. Since flapper healing time takes a while, if you want to keep climbing, you can tape the flapper using climbing tape. Read on for more directions on how to apply the tape. However, while you’re not climbing, the best thing to do is to let it get some air, as it helps to dry it out and speeds up recovery.
5. If you are climbing with flappers taped up, try not to move your hands around too much after you get a hold or prefer using crimps over jugs.
6. Give them time to heal.
Should You Cut Off Flappers?
Some say that cutting off flappers actually makes healing faster and easier. Others say that keeping the flapper over the exposed area is safer as it acts as a natural shield.
Our recommendation is to leave the flap in place as a “biological” dressing for a couple of days. After a few days, there is more chance of infection underneath the flap, and it also dries out, so you can cut it and clean the wound a few times a day to keep it from getting infected.
When you cut off the flap, trim the skin so that there aren’t any ridges left. That makes it easier to heal and prevents it from getting caught on holds if you keep climbing.
Of course, your treatment will also depend on how deep your flapper is. If it’s really deep, it’s good to clean it regularly and keep it covered at least for a day to prevent infection.
There’s also discussion on if it’s better for the flapper to stay dry or to keep it moist. Some say to chalk it up to make it drier because if it’s moist, it takes longer to heal.
From our experience, keeping the moisture in the wound by cleaning it and then keeping the flapper over the wound helps it to heal faster and prevents infection. When it naturally dries out after the skin has regenerated a bit, you can cut the flapper and use a moisturizing cream to smoothen the skin out.
How Do You Prevent Flappers?
The best way to prevent flappers is to notice the condition of your hands after each climb. If you are a beginner and you know your hands are not hardened yet, or if you are more experienced but have taken a long break, you should be extra careful.
When your skin starts to hurt, or you have a callus that feels tender, it’s better to call it a day rather than getting a flapper that will affect your climbing for at least a week. If you do want to keep climbing, you should find routes and holds that don’t affect the areas on your hands that hurt.
If you climb often and have blisters or calluses that seem ready to pop or tear, you should keep them taped while you climb, before they become flappers. If you have rough calluses that stand out over the rest of your skin, use a nail file or pumice stone to smoothen their edges so that it’s not as easy to get caught on a hold and cause a tear. You can also use some repairing hand cream after filing your calluses, but don’t use moisturizing cream right before climbing.
If your calluses keep tearing, you can use some antihydral cream that dries the skin and builds calluses. Use it only on the tips of your fingers, maybe on the tops of your palms, and not very often. We recommend doing some research of your own before using an antihydral cream.
Be careful when you use jugs, do controlled movements, and avoid swinging on them. When you are tired, it’s easier to slide off a jug and cause a flapper.
Precision is key in avoiding ripping off the skin. Slow down and make your movements more static rather than throwing your hands onto jugs. You can practice placing your hands with precision on a hold and don’t move them around after.
Try to keep an open grip when using jugs. Avoid fully grabbing them with your whole hand, and instead use the top parts of your fingers. This way you won’t get as many flappers on your upper palm.
A solid grip is key to preventing flappers. As your grip tires, you start to rely more on skin friction to keep your hand on big holds. Try to alternate between dynamic and static routes so that you maintain your grip strength during your session.
The more you climb, not only your skin will become hardened and conditioned, but you will also become more experienced in using holds other than jugs that don’t cause flappers as much. You will also learn to use your feet more and rub your hands on holds less and put less strain on them. By using different types of holds while you climb, you also give your skin some rest so that you don’t keep rubbing the same areas by over gripping.
As your precision and technique improve, you won’t get flappers as often.
How Do You Tape a Climbing Flapper?
You should always have climbing tape on you when you go climbing. You don’t know when you might need it!
Always wash your hands before dressing your wound. You should then dry up and clean the flapper.
If the flapper is on your finger, applying climbing tape is easy enough. Avoid wrapping the tape around the knuckles, and don’t put the sticky part of the tape directly on the flapper. Fold over one end of the tape to place on the flapper and then wrap the tape around your finger twice, ending on the top of the finger if you are going to keep on climbing.
If the flapper is on your palm, follow these steps to tape it securely:
- Cut a piece of climbing tape as long as the distance between your fingertips and your elbow.
- Put the middle of the piece of tape behind and around the base of the finger that is closest to the flapper.
- Place a piece of gauze or pad on the wound, or the glue-free side of the tape.
- Bring the two ends of the tape diagonally across your palm. They will cross on the flapper, and one will go to the inside of your wrist and one outside.
- Wrap them around your wrist, and they will meet again on the back of your wrist.
- You can wrap a piece of tape around your wrist to secure the ends of the tape. Don’t make it too tight to allow proper circulation.
You can also use the h tape method, perfect after pulley straining (annular ligaments of fingers). It adds structural support to the finger and helps the pulley recover. In our case, it’s just a convenient way to tape flappers on your fingers if you want to keep climbing.
By using the h tape method, you can do that without wrapping tape around the knuckles, as that usually obstructs movement.
This short video demonstrates how you to apply the h tape method:
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How Do I Restore My Hands from Climbing?
Developing a hand care routine after climbing will definitely help in restoring your hands and avoiding further injuries on your next climbs. We already mentioned some of the steps you can take, but here is a concise list of them:
- Always wash and dry your hands thoroughly after climbing
- File your skin to remove dried edges
- Use a lotion or hand repairing cream after climbing
- Use climbing balm before you sleep
Most importantly, don’t overdo it. After a climbing session, especially if you feel your skin is tender and sensitive, give it some days to rest and heal before you climb again, even if your muscles are not so sore.
Wrapping Things Up: How to Deal with Rock Climbing Flappers
Handling climbing skin injuries, specifically treating flappers, is a skill that will help you recover faster and get back on the rock in no time while keeping your skin healthy. Flapper healing time should no longer scare you!
Let’s look at some of the key points on flappers:
- A flapper is one of the most annoying hand injuries, caused by tearing existing calluses or blisters, or by swinging too much on jugs.
- The more you climb, the more your skin will be hardened and conditioned, and you won’t get flappers as often.
- Be precise when placing your hands on holds to reduce friction.
- You should always wash your hands thoroughly and apply moisturizer.
- If you can, keep the flap on for a couple of days to keep the wound moist and clean and cut it off after it dries out.
- To keep climbing when you have a flapper, use climbing tape to protect the wound. Use the h tape method to avoid wrapping your knuckles.
- To prevent flappers, you should file your calluses and remove any rough edges from your skin that can get caught on holds.
- It’s essential to notice the condition of your hands while you climb, and know when it’s time to call it a day, especially if you are a beginner or have taken a long break from climbing.
Last but not least, you should take good care of your hands after climbing and drink plenty of water!
If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like our other climbing tips here.