Evaluation of injury and fatality risk in rock and ice climbing

Sports Med. 2010 Aug 1;40(8):657-79. doi: 10.2165/11533690-000000000-00000.


Rock and ice climbing are widely considered to be 'high-risk' sporting activities that are associated with a high incidence of severe injury and even death, compared with more mainstream sports. However, objective scientific data to support this perception are questionable. Accordingly, >400 sport-specific injury studies were analysed and compared by quantifying the injury incidence and objectively grading the injury severity (using the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics score) per 1000 hours of sporting participation. Fatalities were also analysed. The analysis revealed that fatalities occurred in all sports, but it was not always clear whether the sport itself or pre-existing health conditions contributed or caused the deaths. Bouldering (ropeless climbing to low heights), sport climbing (mostly bolt protected lead climbing with little objective danger) and indoor climbing (climbing indoors on artificial rock structures), showed a small injury rate, minor injury severity and few fatalities. As more objective/external dangers exist for alpine and ice climbing, the injury rate, injury severity and fatality were all higher. Overall, climbing sports had a lower injury incidence and severity score than many popular sports, including basketball, sailing or soccer; indoor climbing ranked the lowest in terms of injuries of all sports assessed. Nevertheless, a fatality risk remains, especially in alpine and ice climbing. In the absence of a standard definition for a 'high-risk' sport, categorizing climbing as a high-risk sport was found to be either subjective or dependent on the definition used. In conclusion, this analysis showed that retrospective data on sport-specific injuries and fatalities are not reported in a standardized manner. To improve preventative injury measures for climbing sports, it is recommended that a standardized, robust and comprehensive sport-specific scoring model should be developed to report and fully evaluate the injury risk, severity of injuries and fatality risk in climbing sports.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Athletic Injuries / etiology
  • Humans
  • Ice
  • Mountaineering / injuries*
  • Mountaineering / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Assessment / methods
  • Risk-Taking


  • Ice