Balancing your muscle development is the guiding principle of preventative maintenance of your shoulders. Paddlers typically overdevelop some muscle groups, leaving other muscles underdeveloped. Underdeveloped muscles in the back and shoulders can lead to an injury.
Frequently these problems arise when the larger muscle groups (“the movers”) overpower the smaller ones (the stabilizers and rotator cuff). This can lead to shoulder dysfunction, so it is important to strengthen and work rotator cuff muscles to control excessive shoulder movement.
It is just as important to work the posterior shoulder and back muscles for the shoulder joint to work properly. Working the shoulder and back will strengthen the muscles that hold the scapula in the correct position, further reducing risk of injury.
The ugly injury of kayaking is shoulder dislocations, which typically happen from poor form rolling or bracing. More details are on the previous page.
The other common paddling injury for shoulders is impingement syndrome. This is much easier to rehab! To avoid or relieve impingement syndrome, a common complaint of paddlers, it is important to stretch the shoulder, utilize proper posture and strengthen the rotator cuff muscles. Impingement syndrome is a sharp stabbing pain on the front of the shoulder, about an inch down. This is often caused by poor shoulder positioning (slouching), poor flexibility, and poor rotator cuff control. On the bright side, impingement pain tends to respond quickly to physical therapy to remind your arm to settle lower in the shoulder (rather than hunched). Even without PT, you can do exercises to pull the shoulder lower, such as lightweight rowing, emphasizing drawing your shoulder blades together.
Heavy weight training can bypass working the stabilizing muscles, so it is important to perform the following exercises with very light resistance. Done daily, these exercises will strengthen and coordinate your paddling muscles. Consult a physician or physical therapist if pain accompanies any of these exercises.
These exercises strengthen the rotator cuff muscles, which help you both for preventing dislocations, rehabing after a dislocation, or reducing impingement problems. Start this exercise with your elbow at your side. If you feel painfree, move to the elevated positions. These positions strengthen the rotator cuff for paddling situations – but don’t push it.
(use a stretchy sport band to provide a little more resistance.)
Internal Rotation elevated:
Strengthening the rotator cuff in this vulnerable position will also help prevent dislocations. Do not do this exercise if you feel pain!
External rotation elevated:
Rowing (very light weight):
Focus on pinching shoulder blades together in the last half of rowing motion
Do both with elbow at side and with elbow away from body.
These exercises strengthen interscapular muscles. Good for controlling the position of the scapula, and for posterior shoulder strength.
Lying down abduction with external rotation. (Finish Thumbs up)
Lying down abduction with internal rotation (Finish thumbs down)
These exercises help shoulder flexibility:
Vary hand and elbow position to get stretch in different areas of the chest.
To stretch internal rotation. Good to reduce impingement problems.
Shoulder excercises provided by Phil Rambo of Integrated Physical Therapy in Durango, CO. Thanks to Phil for rehabing my shoulder to 100% painfree function!