Tips for Paddlers to Avoid Upper Body Injuries

Whether you enjoy the water via raft, kayak, paddleboard, or canoe – here are some tips to avoid common upper body injuries this summer.

Common Upper Body Injuries in Paddle Sports

Paddle sports, due to their repetitive nature, often lead to overuse injuries. Here are some of the most common upper body injuries paddlers might experience:

  • Tendonitis: Inflammation of the tendons, often in the wrists, elbows, and shoulders, caused by repetitive motion and strain.
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries: Strains or tears in the shoulder muscles and tendons due to repetitive overhead movements.
  • Wrist Strains: Overuse of the wrist joint leading to pain and inflammation.
  • Muscle Strains: Overworking the muscles, leading to small tears and pain, typically in the forearms, biceps, and shoulders.
  • Sprains: Injury to the ligaments, often occurring in the wrists and shoulders due to sudden movements or impacts.

Tips to Avoid Upper Body Injuries

Always Warm Up

Before you hit the water, spend some time warming up. A good warm-up increases blood flow and circulation to your muscles, reducing the risk of injury. Incorporate dynamic stretches that focus on your upper body, such as arm circles, shoulder shrugs, and torso twists. These exercises increase your range of motion and help prevent strains and sprains.

Stay Hydrated

Hydration is crucial, especially on hot Central Oregon summer days. Dehydration can lead to muscle cramping and increase the likelihood of muscle strains or tears. Start hydrating before you get in the water and continue to drink water throughout your paddling session.

Keep a Light Grip on Your Paddle

“White knuckling,” or gripping your paddle too tightly, puts unnecessary pressure on your forearms, wrists, and elbows. A tight grip can lead to fatigue and increase the risk of overuse injuries such as tendonitis. Keep your fingers loose and your grip relaxed to maintain better control and reduce strain.

Shoulder specialist, Dr. Scott Jacobson, explains the causes and treatment for shoulder impingement in this short video.

Use Your Whole Body, Not Just Your Arms

To avoid overloading your arms and shoulders, engage your entire body in each paddle stroke. Focus on reaching forward with your torso and using your core muscles to drive the motion. This technique helps distribute the effort more evenly across your body, reducing the risk of fatigue and injury.

Take a Break

Listening to your body is crucial in preventing injuries. Whether it’s a short 10-minute break during your paddling session or a longer break after a weekend on the water, rest is essential. If you start to feel pain or discomfort, introduce longer or more frequent rest stops. Allow your body to recover by taking a day or two off if needed. If you suffer a muscle strain or other injury, either take a complete break or reduce your intensity to give the injury time to heal.

When to Seek Help

Despite taking precautions, injuries can still occur. Overuse injuries typically develop gradually, while traumatic injuries result from a specific incident. If you experience persistent pain or an injury that affects your ability to paddle, it’s important to seek professional help. Our sports medicine specialists are here to diagnose and treat your injuries, helping you get back to enjoying your favorite water activities safely.

Remember, prevention is key to enjoying a fun and injury-free paddling season. By warming up, staying hydrated, maintaining a light grip, using your whole body, and taking breaks when needed, you can minimize your risk of upper body injuries.

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