Shoulder Struggles with the RV Project: Part 1

 
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Today we’re bringing you the first installment in a 3-part series from Vikki Glinskii, one half of The RV Project’s dynamic duo. The RV Project is Vikki’s and Spenser Tang-Smith’s adventure across America in search of the country’s best climbing and most interesting people. If you’ve been ignoring a nagging shoulder pain (or any pain, really), or if you’re a new climber, this post series is for you.

I first climbed up some plastic holds at Berkeley Ironworks almost eight years ago and was hooked immediately. There are countless climbers with the same story. For me, the best way I can describe why climbing felt special was that it gave me freedom to use my body in ways I had honestly never thought of. And it was so fun! Not to mention, I was getting what I thought, and was told, was good pretty quickly—so I wanted to keep getting better.

I was 22 when I started climbing and had not done any consistent sport since high school. Within months, I was hanging off my limbs on the Wave, a roof that transitions into a 45-degree overhanging bouldering wall at Ironworks.

The Ironworks Wave is SO FUN, but takes an incredible amount of strength. Photo: Bruno P Lim

I was bouldering for a few hours 2-3 days per week, normally after working a 12-hour shift at my new job which involved a lot of sitting at a computer. I also wasn’t really doing anything else, including antagonistic exercises or stretches.

As I’m writing this, I’m laughing to myself because now it feels so painfully obvious that the increase in activity would inevitably lead to problems. But you know what they say about hindsight…

Climbing at Great Western Power Company in Oakland. Photo: Spenser Tang-Smith

This was 2009, and my life followed the same pattern until 2011. That year my man candy Spenser and I had decided to go on a year-long climbing road trip across the US. I was able to move to a part-time remote position at my job, but it meant that I would lose my cushy health insurance. This was what finally got me, after months of on/off neck and shoulder pain, to see a physical therapist.

I was referred to a highly reputable therapist in San Francisco. I’ll get straight to the point on this one—she didn’t earn my trust. When I asked for an explanation, she often gave me a response that didn’t make sense to me. When I asked a follow-up question, she dismissed me. She was scatterbrained and always in a rush. She also had no experience with climbing, or the treatment of climbers.

So I half-heartedly did the back exercises and stretches she prescribed me, but ultimately never felt like we were on the same page—or even speaking the same language. Also as prescribed, I didn’t climb anything difficult for months. I was so busy with work and leaving my life in SF (renting out my apartment, packing up, buying a trailer) that I barely had time to climb anyway; I was focused on getting out of the Bay Area and on the road.

The first stop on the road trip: Hueco Tanks, March 2012.

I want to be clear that I don’t think my shoulder pain went away because of the exercises this PT had me do; it was predominately because I wasn’t climbing. So, if you’re seeing a doctor, physical therapist, naturopath, or any other medical provider that gives you answers that don’t add up, think twice. She truly was a waste of my time (not to mention money!), but that physical therapist experience made me thankful and highly aware of the good aspects of my next one.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the series next week when Vikki tells us more about her road to recovery.