Climbing and Bouldering Therapy: The Benefits to Rock Climbing

By: Laura Van Zandt, OTR/L

This summer, physical and occupational therapists are excited to provide therapy on the walls as part of our summer outreach program “Climbing and Bouldering.” The varied terrain offers countless opportunities for physical and sensory challenges.

Rock climbing has so many benefits for kids of all ages and abilities.15_Patrick_Krueger

  • Strengthening and endurance: Climbing walls require strength and flexibility to
    successfully maneuver. Kids develop hand and finger strength as they grasp and hang onto holds of all different shapes and sizes. Some of the holds are tiny and don’t have much to grasp. Making your way up a climbing wall also requires a great deal of core strength and leg strength as your hold yourself in space. All that movement and use of your arms, legs, and core will help develop endurance for other gross motor activities.
  • Sensory processing: Kids get great proprioceptive input (sensory input to the muscles and joints) and vestibular (movement-based) experiences as they power themselves up and over while using the different holds as well as glide back down to the floor from the top of the wall! For kids who experience gravitational insecurity, rock climbing can be an extreme challenge but can be graded to meet their needs. For example, kids who are reluctant to climb high up on the wall can work on moving from side to side first. Children who also experience tactile sensitivities could also be help by all the proprioceptive input into their hands to help desensitize prior to working with different textures.
  • Motor planning and visual spatial/perceptual skills: Climbing is an awesome way to help kids develop motor planning skills. Indoor rock climbing is a great puzzle just waiting for your child to solve! The holds are all different shapes and colors. Most climbing walls also have colored tape markings that show climbers different paths they can take up the wall. This makes it easy to give a child instructions (e.g. “step your right foot on the blue hold” or “find the next hold with green tape next to it”) to challenge their abilities. Also, climbing walls usually have “routes” with
    a variety of difficulty levels, making it easy to adjust the activity depending on the skill level of the child.

    15_Brady Pembroke

  • Bilateral coordination: When kids are rock climbing, they must use both sides of their body together, usually in an alternating pattern — right hand and right foot move up to the next level, followed by the left hand and left foot. Also, kids have to learn how to differentiate between the movements on either side of their bodies. They stabilize themselves with one foot/hand while motor planning how to grasp onto and step on the next holds with their other foot and hand.
  • Confidence: Allowing kids to move outside of their comfort zone in a safe and controlled environment will undoubtedly help to build their confidence and promote development of positive self-esteem.

If you think your child might benefit from this outreach group, please visit our website for more information on Climbing and Bouldering Therapy and check out other Community Based Therapy Programs for Summer 2017!

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