Preventing shoulder pain

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Shoulder pain is one of the two most common sources of pain for canoe paddlers along with low back pain.

As training ramps up for the six-man season, it’s important to consider if your shoulders are ready for the demands of paddling over the next six months.

By the time long distance season rolls around, many paddlers have started to develop shoulder pain, but what if that pain could be prevented?

The shoulder joint is unique in that it allows for large degrees of motion in multiple directions, but this increased motion also makes the shoulder more susceptible to injury. The shoulder joint is a “ball and socket” joint, and is often compared to a golf ball sitting on a golf tee. Basically, the ball part of the joint is bigger than the socket which allows for increased motion, but can also lead to instability. Luckily, we have four rotator cuff muscles attached around the shoulder joint to help compress the ball part of the joint into the socket which creates stability. The problem is, most people have underdeveloped or weak rotator cuff muscles which can lead to the ball part of the joint moving around too much during the paddling stroke leading to “impingement” of certain structures and pain.

Consider how many strokes a paddler may take during a one hour pre-season race. Sixty strokes a minute multiplied by 60 minutes comes out to 3600 strokes. If the rotator cuff muscles aren’t doing their job, it can lead to significant “impingement” over the course of 3600 strokes. It’s a recipe for shoulder pain! The good news is that it’s early in the season, and here are a few simple rotator cuff exercises to improve your shoulder joint stability and decrease risk of shoulder pain throughout the season.

Three direction isometric hold: keep shoulder blades pinched down and back. Hold for 2-3 sets of 1 min using 3-5# weight.

Bilateral external rotation with band: rotate arms outward as you pinch shoulder blades down and back.

Side lying external rotation: keep elbow bent at 90 degrees and rotate arm outward. 2 sets of 15 reps with 3-5# weight.

By Tim Chang PT, DPT

 

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