Preventing Boating Injuries
From NRS online
Hopefully you’ve been keeping up a
program of exercise and stretching through the winter. If so, you’re
ready to start boating come spring. If your winter exercise program
has consisted largely of reaching into the chip bag and operating
the remote control, jumping right into high intensity boating is
asking for what can be debilitating injury.
Acute and chronic boating injuries caused by lack of
conditioning or over-straining muscles are primarily in the
upper body. Paddling and rowing are repetitive motions that
can lead to inflammation of joints and muscles. Boating in
turbulent waters can result in sudden, violent extensions of
joints and muscles, causing dislocations and tears in tendons
and muscles. Wrists, shoulders and backs are the most common
areas of the body where boaters suffer injury.
Our shoulders are particularly vulnerable to over extension.
The rotator cuff is the name given to the four muscle groups
and their tendons that hold the shoulder joint in place. Tears
to and inflammation of these muscles and tendons can be caused
by acute trauma or by repetitive “wear and tear.”
The result? Anatomy students and physical therapists help themselves
remember the four muscle groups with an acronym of the first letter
in the names of the muscle groups, “SITS”. As in, the person with a
torn rotator cuff SITS out the action. (Editor’s note: Speaking from
personal experience, a torn rotator cuff and its consequent pain,
surgery and physical therapy is something you want to avoid. Aside
from the physical pain of a torn rotator cuff, it will scare the
hell out of you to wonder whether you might not ever go boating
So, how do you avoid injury to these areas? It takes a combination
of approaches – conditioning, warm-up and stretching, use of correct
technique and the right equipment.
You can sign-up at a gym or do it at home. Most gyms have trainers
that can help you design a program. There are also some excellent
books and Internet resources. The important thing is to “just do it”
on a regular basis. Adopt a balanced program of exercises that
strengthen the muscles in the chest, arms, shoulders, upper and
lower back and abdomen.
Paddling and rowing are excellent conditioning exercises themselves.
When first beginning in the season, start easy; work your way up to
Warm-Up and Stretching
Before exercising and paddling, warm-up the muscle groups you’ll be
using. Do this by making the same motions you’ll be using on the
water. Rotate your shoulders forward and back, twist and lean your
torso, move your body forward and back, etc. Repeat the motions
until you feel the muscles loosen up.
Stretching out muscles and tendons improves flexibility and
elasticity, helping to prevent injury. Select a range of stretches
that cover all the body areas you use. Stretch easy, you should feel
a good tension but never any pain. Hold each stretch for 15-20
seconds. Stretch during any breaks during a day’s paddling and at
the end of the day.
Kayakers are especially vulnerable to shoulder problems. Avoid a
high brace, where the outer arm is elevated. Keep the upper arm
as close to your body as possible. Also, use a relaxed grip on
your paddle shaft, “white knuckling” the grip puts undue stress
on your forearm and wrist.
When rowing, if the oar gets caught on a rock, release it before
it jerks your arm out. All the conditioning in the world won’t
save you if you abuse your body by asking it to do something
it’s not designed to do.
Tyler dialing in his stroke.
© David Blue
The Right Equipment
Paddling and rowing require repetitive motions, motions that can be
repeated hundreds of times during a day. Kayakers sometimes
experience pain as a result. Many find that a bent shaft paddle,
which puts their hands and wrists in a more neutral position, cures
this problem. Additionally, going to a lighter paddle and/or one
with a reduced feather can bring relief to the muscles and joints in
your hand, wrist and arm.
When you’re rowing, usually at least two-thirds of the oar is
outside the oar mount. Lifting that weight every time you take a
stroke can wear you out and lead to injury. You may find you can use
shorter oars. If a buddy has some, give that a try. You can also go
to a lighter oar, add counterweights to the handle end or purchase
oars with counterweights in the handles.
The bottom line? Take care of your body and your body will take care
of you. The “12-ounce forearm curl” isn’t sufficient exercise to
prepare you for boating. Stay in shape, use the right technique and
equipment – and you’ll still be boating when you’re old and gray.
Our wish is to “see you on the water”, healthy and safe, for a long