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Kayaking and shoulder injuries

By Dan Benson, DPT

With the massive water runoff,
kayakers this season took advantage of
the raging rivers and giant rapids.

Although these amazing river
conditions allow for phenomenal
paddling, they are the basis for an
increased number of injuries.

Given the lack of surface area to
create a stable joint, it’s not surprising
the shoulders are kayakers’ most
frequently injured body part. Ideal
shoulder mechanics while sitting
are a sequence of hip, thoracic spine
(upper back), scapula (shoulder
blade), and arm movement patterns.

Technique is vital to a kayaker’s injury
prevention but cannot be fully realized
unless there exists a freedom
of movement in the joint, combined
with stability.

A stable kayaking foundation is
derived from a solid sitting position.
If the hamstrings and posterior hip
capsules are too tight, it’s impossible
to maintain a straight low back
alignment while sitting. Poor posture
leads to decreased spinal motion and
increased stress in the shoulders.

Try slouching in your chair and see
how far you can rotate your spine to
reach behind you. Re-try the same
movement but sit tall with good
posture—the difference in rotation
should be dramatic. The thoracic
spine should be able to move freely
with each paddle stroke and to allow
for correct bracing and rolling

The scapula’s job is to guide and
initiate every paddle movement.
For example, when the paddle is
pulling through the water on the
right, the right shoulder blade
should be squeezing back toward
the spine as the left shoulder blade
glides forward in preparation for its
upcoming paddle.

Dan Benson is originally from Northern
Michigan and earned his Doctorate
of Physical Therapy from the University
of Vermont. He works for Lone
Peak Physical Therapy and splits his
time between clinics in West Yellowstone
and Big Sky. Dan has a special
interest in performance enhancement
treatment for athletes of all levels.

Injury Prevention Exercises
Hamstring Stretch:

Stand and place your foot on a chair or step. Bend the knee of the elevated leg
slightly and tilt forward at your pelvis (so your low back remains straight) until
your hamstrings stretch. Turn your foot side to side 10-20 times to move the
stretch around.
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Paddling Exercise:

Sit with your knees pelvis high and your feet flat on the floor (straight back). Attach
a theraband to one end of your paddle and to the top or bottom of a door and practice
paddling with resistance. Apply the resistance for paddling forward and backward
with your paddle both high and low (keep your hands in front of your torso). Perform
2-3 sets with 10 repetitions in each position. Over exaggerate the thoracic spine
rotation and think about guiding the movements with your shoulder blades.

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Thoracic Spine Stretch:

Sit with knees pelvis high and feet flat on the floor (straight back). Hold your
arms in front of you and, with increasing momentum, rotate side to side. Rotate
each direction 10-20 times.

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Figure 4 Stretch:

Start on your hands and knees and keep your back neutral during this exercise.
Straighten one leg behind you and rotate your other foot forward underneath
you. Reach back with your straight leg—you should feel your other hip stretch.
Move the stretch around by subtly pulsing forward-backward, side-side, and
rotating (10 pulses each).

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