Shoulder Injuries in Paddlers - Canoeing, Kayaking

Philip Holland 

  • Numerous paddlers injure their shoulders every year and many of these have gone on to need surgery. Some of these paddlers used to paddle several times a week and now don’t paddle at all because of their shoulder problems. The few minutes it takes you to read this will hopefully help you look after your shoulders!
  • Shoulders are designed to move through a large range. To allow them to do this they are not very robust. This is great for most people but paddlers are not like most people. Paddlers often push their shoulders to the limit.
  • Shoulder injuries tend to occur when the shoulder is in an awkward position. The ‘at risk position’ is when your arm is out to your side and your hand is behind your head. If you put even a small force through your arm in this position you are at risk of injuring your shoulder.
  • The most common reason while paddling that you may find yourself in the ‘at risk position’ is when you are doing a high brace. You are usually more concerned about keeping upright than you are about injuring your shoulder. The reality is that while a capsize or a swim may be embarrassing it is often a lot better than seriously injuring your shoulder. 
  • Try to avoid using a high brace; use a low brace as much as possible. In the low brace position your hand is below your elbow and it is unlikely that you will injure your shoulder. When you do need to do a high brace keep your hand in front of your head. Don’t get caught with your hand behind your head! 
  • If you have a shoulder injury that doesn’t get better after a few weeks make sure you see a health care professional who specialises in shoulder injuries such as a shoulder surgeon or a specialist physiotherapist. You may be suffering with pain or it may be that you don’t feel you can trust your shoulder anymore. Whatever your symptoms if your injury is stopping you from doing what you want to do you need to see someone who can accurately diagnose and treat your shoulder injury.

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