April 19, 2011

'The Hole'

Today, I have decided to discuss a topic of a most delicate nature. Some might find it offensive, disgusting, revolting, or simply gross. If you have a weak stomach, you might prefer to backtrack your browser and check out Britney’s latest fashion flops or the nation’s most recent weight-loss trends. As for the rest, you have been warned.
The good news: If you do not rock climb and are sitting in your cubicle reading this, do not worry... the ‘hole’ will not get to you. If you only boulder or sport climb, you also will never have to deal with this dreadful malady. 
It is only those of us who cannot abstain from the perfect splitter cracks of Indian Creek that need to watch out. Ah yes, you Creek-dwellers know exactly what I am talking about. I am sure that at some point, you hung your head in shame and embarrassment, thinking you had some crazy fungus or infection between your two smallest toes. 
Well, lift that chin up and hold your head high. You are not the only one to develop this bewildering disorder. It is actually a quite common occurrence for us Creek-climbers. The condition, a.k.a ‘Creek toe’, is a sore or painful blister found between the last two toes of either foot (sometimes both). It is incredibly painful .... surprisingly so, to the point that it drives most sufferers to stop climbing completely until recovered. Here’s a close-up shot of my latest ordeal with the condition. 

For its small appearance, ‘the hole’ is actually quite debilitating. People will tell you that it is a fungus, an infection, or both. I, however, believe it is a product of the .75 Green Camalot splitter crack. The featureless one typical of Indian Creek, which provides no footholds, and forces you to continually jam your little toes mercilessly inside. 

If the crack is too small, your foot will not fit at all. If the crack is too wide, you can shove your whole foot inside and stand comfortably.The problem arises when you think your foot will fit in a crack (when in reality it doesn't), and you continue to try your darnedest to force it in. Your poor little toes end up taking the brutal impact of this struggle. Your foot is already crammed into a little climbing shoe. Subsequently forcing it into a crack of this size, creates a ton of torquing friction between your two smallest toes. Small protrusions/calcifications of bone in your foot rub together and basically grind away the flesh in between.... hence, 'the hole' ...
Once the hole has set in, there is only so much you can do.

First and foremost, stop shoving your foot in a crack for a few days! The only way to guarantee a non-recurrence is to quit crack climbing completely. For most of us, this is not an option. There is a lot of bruising that occurs during the development of the hole, so seriously, give your foot a break for a few days. The more you crack climb while afflicted, the deeper the sore becomes. This means exponentially more pain and a substantially longer recovery period. 
Wear sandals as much as possible, and put a spacer between the toes while sleeping. (Cotton balls work well.) If you continue to wear socks and shoes, keep a cotton ball between the toes (as pictured below), to prevent that little blister from marinating in your foot gunk and sweat.   

Keep the sore clean and air it out regularly. It is an open wound, and can easily fall prey to the above mentioned fungal or bacterial infections. 
Finally, when you decide to return to climbing, use moleskin on the inner sides of both toes. This will create a space between them and prevent a relapse. 

Good luck out there ... I hope you found this post informative and helpful! Let me know your thoughts and i'd love to hear about any tricks/treatments that worked well for you. 


  1. Hey Sarah,

    There's so many strange climbing specific injuries. Just went to a talk on common climbing injuries at the Midwest Mountaineering Outdoor Expo and learned a lot.

    Like you mentioned in your post, most people and even doctors will misdiagnose. There needs to be a webMD for climbers.