Published research on rock climbing footwear

Mr Ryan McHenry (Intercalated BMSc Hons) has had his research “Footwear in Rock Climbing: Current Practice” published in The Foot - the International Journal of Clinical Foot Science. The Foot is an international peer-reviewed journal covering all aspects of scientific approaches and medical and surgical treatment of the foot and ankle.

It is known that many rock climbers wear ill-fitting and excessively tight footwear during climbing activity. There was insufficient evidence regarding the extent or harm of this practice in the published literature. Ryan, a keen rock climber himself, investigated footwear use in the sport with a particular focus on issues surrounding fit. 

Ill-fitting and excessively tight footwear was found in 55 out of 56 rock climbers. Foot pain during activity was also commonplace in 91% of the climbers. A mean size reduction of almost 4 UK shoe sizes was found between the climbers' street shoe size and that of their climbing footwear with a higher association of climbers of higher abilities seeking a tighter shoe fit. With the elucidation of footwear use amongst rock climbers, further investigation may aim to quantify its impact and seek a solution balancing climbing performance while mitigating foot injury.

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The shocking shoe size discrepancy between climbing and normal footwear

Ryan’s Intercalated BMSc (Hons) research project in Applied Orthopaedic Technology was conducted in 2012-2013 at the Institute of Motion Analysis & Research (IMAR) at the TORT Centre and was supervised by Professor Rami Abboud and Dr Graham Arnold. The research won the first Medical School Intercalated Award, the Sir James Mackenzie Award, in June 2013.

Obviously in order to analyse rock climbing movements it is handy to have easy access to a climbing wall that can be used at different times during the day. After looking into different possibilities the best option was for us just to build our own wall! So there is now a fully functioning artificial climbing wall with a 10° overhang situated at one end of the Sports Lab at IMAR. This was designed and constructed by Ryan himself along with IMAR’s technical staff. The climbing wall has been used extensively over the last three years for various research projects. It has a mounting point matrix included allowing the fitting of a large range of handholds and route configurations. Situated around the climbing wall is an 18-camera Vicon 3D motion capture system and wireless EMG system which allows highly accurate tracking of the climber’s motion as well as recording synchronised muscle activity.

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Construction of the climbing wall at IMAR

Ryan has now successfully passed his MBChB degree and Graduated from the University of Dundee on Friday 26 June 2015. We at the TORT Centre wish him every success in his future medical career.

“Ryan is full of energy and passion towards his favourite sport, rock climbing. Based on this, he was adamant to undertake a challenging project that he designed, developed and executed to perfection which even included building a rock climbing wall at IMAR. I have very much enjoyed my interaction with him as an intercalated student and now as a colleague. I am sure Ryan will go far in his career as his passion and enthusiasm can never be dampened but I hope that he could learn from the research he completed and change his climbing shoes to something approaching a GOOD fit!”, stated Professor Rami Abboud.

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Professor Rami Abboud and Dr Ryan McHenry at Graduation; the climbing wall at IMAR's sports lab

Vicon motion capture of simulated rock climbing also showing joint biomechanics data and EMG signals

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Left: Ryan on 'top of the World'; Right: Ryan 'over the Moon'!


Wave102 Radio Interview

More at The Herald newspaper

University of Dundee News Item

More at School of Medicine

More on this research at Podiatry Arena Forum Blog

Full paper available HERE