How to Avoid Shoulder Injuries
By Mary Deas, Occupational Therapist and Member of the East Tennessee Whitewater Club
What to avoid:
-Do not fully externally rotate shoulder (turn thumb up with arm away from trunk)- at high risk of
-Don’t bring elbows behind shoulder level. When high bracing keep elbows in front of and below
shoulder with hands above elbow. Utilize power of rotating and leaning back with trunk.
-Don’t bring hands above shoulder height while elbows above shoulder height. With rolling don’t allow
hands to move past shoulders.
-Don’t push off the bottom with paddle as roll technique- this places the shoulder at a high risk of
What to do:
-Lean forward with erect posture and paddle parallel to chest- twist torso for power and to prevent
-Keep a bend in your elbows when reaching far away from body to prevent forces from directly straining
the shoulder- with rolling and bracing.
-Paddle with your core and legs- these are stronger muscles than those within the arm and help
-Use leverage- don’t pull the paddle through the water, instead turn lower extremity so that your trunk is
facing the knee on the side paddling on.
-Back stroke- The top hand should be between the eyes and the shoulder, rotate torso and push shoulder
forward as paddle moves from by hip to knees.
-Initial placement of paddle in water causes strain in lower back, elbow and shoulders.
-For canoeist- often one arm becomes stronger than the other and pectoralis/ hamstrings and anterior
shoulder girdle need to be stretched.
-Use loose grip and be relaxed but don’t get lazy!
Alternatives: Use sweep roll instead of C-C change angle of paddle along shaft, change length of paddle,
use smaller blade with less load, bent shaft, feathered (increased risk of tendonitis) vs unfeathered (has
greater degree of air resistance).
Strengthen: Typically paddlers are strong within posterior shoulder girdle from frontward paddling; be
sure to incorporate resistive exercises for the muscles of the anterior shoulder (listed above)with exercise
routine. Back paddling is a good work out for the anterior shoulder girdle.
Scapula stabilizers- serratus anterior, upper, middle and lower trapezius, rhomboids (minor and major),
subscapularis, and levator scapula.
Rotator Cuff- to be exercised with elbows by side and elevated (with elbows at shoulder height.
Internal rotation- subscapularis, latissimus dorsi, pectoralis major, and teres major
External rotation- supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid
Poor Torso Rotation: the rear hand falls behind the shoulder line and the front hand crosses the mid-line.
The Power Position: The whole upper body turns so that the hands stay in front of the shoulder line, neither cross the midline, and the arms, paddle and chest form a rectangle.
(Pictures of a woman screwing up a stern draw, and Ken Whiting doing it with perfect form.)
Ken Whiting was the 1997/98 World Whitewater Freestyle Champion. He has produced an award-winning series
of instructional kayaking books and DVDs, and leads kayaking trips to Chile. Look for his new book 'The Ultimate Guide to Whitewater Kayaking', and video 'The Ultimate Guide to Sea Kayaking'.
Check out www.helipress.com
-Don’t let hands cross midline or behind shoulders.
-Maintain rectangles with arms, paddle, and chest and rotate trunk as seen in picture on right.