Rock climbing, gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting and other sports can be rough on your hands. Sometimes your skin will open up during a workout or while you’re climbing. Here are the reasons your skin opens up, how to prevent it and how to fix it once it happens.
What Is a Bloody Flapper?
A bloody flapper is a bloody flap of torn skin.
This is a regular occurrence among rock climbers. It can also happen in the gym on a pull up bar.
They sting, they’re messy, and they are kind of a showstopper.
What Are Calluses?
Calluses are mounds of skin that develop where there is regular pressure put on your hands or feet.
Guitarists have awesome calluses on their fingertips. Your average gym rat and CrossFitter has some good calluses from holding the weights, doing pull-ups and heaving a sledgehammer. A rock climber has calluses basically all over their hands because they use every bit of skin available to get some friction on the rock.
From an evolutionary standpoint, these mounds of dry skin make sense. Repetitive motions scrape layers of skin off, so your body puts more there so that the skin isn’t punctured.
But sometimes you have a big, fat callus – and it rips completely off.
Dry, Brittle Skin Causes Bloody Flappers
Sometimes you’re climbing up a rock and you reach as far and hard as you can for the next hold, but don’t quite get it. Your hand pulls away, but the skin didn’t want to leave. You’ve now got a very open wound.
Rock climbers use chalk – lots of it.
But here is the secret: While climbing, you can use all the chalk you want to dry the top layer of skin so that you have good friction with the rock. However, going days with dry hands not only makes the top layers dry, but several layers of skin become dry, brittle, and more prone to cracking open.
This is the underlying cause of well over half of the bloody flappers I’ve seen. It’s just people with chronically dry hands.
How To Prevent Bloody Flappers
Keep your hands moist when you’re not climbing.
This obviously doesn’t mean to put lotion on when you’re heading out to the rock. But it does mean that as soon as you get home and wash the chalk off, you should slop on some lotion and let it soak in.
I just keep putting on the lotion until I know my hands are saturated. It also helps them heal faster from the ravages of climbing.
That’s it. Just keep as many layers of skin hydrated. That top layer needs to be dry during your climb up the rock.
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How To Keep Climbing After You Get a Bloody Flapper
Usually if you’re out climbing, it means you’ve invested some time to go to the location, set up camp, get geared up and hit the rock. You don’t want to get there and have one bloody flap of skin ruin your day or the whole trip.
Please don’t take this as medical advice, this is just what works for me. Read the disclaimer page and don’t do anything stupid.
Once I get a bloody flapper, I do the following:
- Wash it clean with water. It usually has some chalk inside and I try to get that out.
- Once it is clean, I dry it up with a paper towel.
- Disinfect the area – putting disinfectant directly on your open wound may cause you to start screaming. I just disinfect the area around it.
- Then I use climber’s tape to tape up the finger and I over up every part of the loose skin.
- Then I re-chalk the hand.
My favorite climbing tape:
Then when you get home:
- Oh so friggin’ carefully, remove the tape and don’t rip off or cut off the dead skin unless you have to.
- Wash it thoroughly.
- Let it dry.
This is where I see most people mess up. They don’t let the wound dry out.
My Signature Secret to Regrowing Skin
Alternating moisture and dryness is the most effective and time-efficient way to get that sucker to close up.
You essentially have a hole in your skin. There is a part of it that was ripped off. So long as it wasn’t a really, really big part, the skin usually tightens up to close the hole.
It isn’t like some new skin just bubbles up from below. Well, okay it could happen that way, but I’ve seen it happen much faster when it comes from the sides. I’m not a freaking scientist here, I just know what takes the smallest amount of time.
The quickest way, by far, is:
- Let it dry and shrink up.
- Throw a band aid on with ointment to keep it moist.
- Let it dry and shrink up more.
- Repeat as necessary.
I’ve done this many times and is what has worked for me the fastest.
When I kept it moist the whole time it took twice as long. When I kept it dry the whole time, it was constantly painful and would crack and bleed.
A mixture of the two is what worked for me.
It Doesn’t Happen Only During Rock Climbing
I recently went into a gym that had very chalked-up pull up bars. We did a workout heavy on pull ups and I ripped off one of my calluses. I didn’t chalk up my hands before the workout.
After working in gyms for about 20 years, I can’t say that I’ve ever done that before. But then again, I’ve never felt the need to chalk up a pull up bar. If it was greasy, I wiped it off. If my hands were slipping, I made sure to train my grip strength.
Several other people in the workout also walked away with ripped skin. This seemed pretty crazy to me. I rarely have a client get a bloody flapper in the gym. Like once a year, tops. And it usually happens to people who add grip tape to the pull up bar or try to use some other aid because their forearms aren’t strong enough.
The answer is usually to increase grip strength. Not to increase the friction to 100%.
There is a time and a place for chalk.
It should not be put on every bar you pick up and it should not be used every time you work out.
If your friend has something fall on him and he’s in need, are you going to run and find some chalk?
With the right approach, you can speed up the healing process and get back in the game fast.
I used to be very much on the side of “keep it moist all the time so that it can grow from the bottom up.” But then I ran out of ointment one day and had to let it go dry for a while.
After a few hours, the hole in my skin shrunk. I was amazed. I then moistened it overnight and then let it dry out for hours the next morning. It shrunk even more!
Experiment with different methods and find out what works best for you.
And please don’t do anything stupid.