In this question I asked about suspension trauma and why it's effects come to be. Apparently the main reason is reduced blood flow/ circulation. This is due to

  • blood vessels being constrained/pressed on by the harness,
  • lack of movement in leg and feet muscles aggravating the problem.

My question now is this:

  • How fast will suspension trauma happen?
  • How quickly does one have to react would one be confronted with such situation where a group member is suspended and cannot immediately self-rescue or be rescued?

Wikipedia mentions: "Onset of symptoms may be after just a few minutes, but usually occurs after at least 20 minutes of free hanging." 20 minutes doesn't seem a whole lot of time!

The point I'm getting at:

  • How long should we wait/try rescue until we have to start using increasingly desperate measures to save the suspended persons life by getting them off the suspension?

In case this helps, let's assume the following hypothetical scenario: a party of 2 climbers on a multi-pitch climb. The weather is good and decently warm (i.e. no additional problems because of cold temperatures, winds, ...).

  • Is the suspended person conscious? If he has rock contact he can push against the rock or with slings/cords you can make a foot loop. Both is effective at preventing suspension trauma.
    – imsodin
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 10:38

1 Answer 1


The wikipedia page you quote should be right, of course this may vary by situation and person. So The asnwer to "how fast" is "about 20 minutes". This is indeed not a whole lot of time. When it is clear that within the next few minutes the person can not be lowered to the ground by normal means, rescue should start immediately.

If the person is conscious, she/he should try to keep some movement of the legs, especially against some resistance, if ground is not avialable. A good thing would be a loop of webbing or rope, which is attached to the rope (e.g. via prussik) so that the person can actively stand in it (and change load between right and left leg).

An unconscious person has to be lowered to ground as fast as safely (and sanely) possible. Or, if achievable, pulled up. This is excessively more difficult, but could be the only option (how to pull someone up in such a situation I asked here)

If this is not immediately possible, anything which alleviates the problem at least a little bit is welcome:

  • the height differential between legs and torso is a main problem, so if the body can be brought in a more horizontal position this would help
  • the constriction of the blood flow by the leg loops of the harness is another problem, so if something sturdy like a board is available, shoving it into the leg loops so that the person "sits" on it will help. The pressure in the leg tissue is so more evenly distributed which should improve blood flow a bit.

After rescued to the ground, DON'T lay the person completely down, keep her/him with the torso upright. The reason is to not to overwhelm the circulation system with a big volume of blood depleted of oxygen and also possibly enriched with buildup of other substances. This can otherwise lead to a situation called "Bergungstod" in Germany (death after rescue).

The rescuing person should always keep her own safety as top priority

  • I like what you write here, but I'd like to get some sort of a idea of a timeline. How long can we wait until we just absolutely, positively have to get someone off the suspension? (I edited the OP, to make this point clearer...)
    – fgysin
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 9:50
  • i added a bit to the first part. the gist is, rescue should start immediately when "normally" getting to the ground isn't available
    – knitti
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 9:55
  • 1
    @fgysin I think the problem is to specify what are "desperate measures". As a general rule, you should never plan for them, as they usually do more harm than good. If your partner is suspended and unconscious and lowering is not possible and neither can you get down to him, you need to start pulling him up immediately. That's going to take more than 20min, but well, what can you do? I can't think of any meaningful discussion about time-frame here, really it's just as fast as possible adjusted to the exact circumstances.
    – imsodin
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 10:42
  • @imsodin thanks for reminding me of pulling someone up
    – knitti
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 11:14

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