Is Dragon Boat Racing Causing You Shoulder Pain?

By Jackie Siemon

The sport of dragon boat is not conducive to even muscle development due to its one-sided nature. Paddlers often overdevelop or under develop muscle groups as a result of repetitive one-sided movements. This leaves some muscles weak, while others become significantly stronger. Such effects are usually seen in the shoulders and back. These resulting muscle imbalances can ultimately lead to injury.

As paddlers, we tend to train the bigger muscle groups in only a certain range of motion. For example, the paddling stroke relies heavily on the pectoralis major muscle, but does not enforce proper range of motion of certain joints such as the acromioclavicular joint where the clavicle meets the acromion (the outermost point of the spine of the shoulder blade) of the scapula. This adaptation of the larger muscles is beneficial in an athlete’s development, however neglecting flexibility and other ranges of movement associated with the joint is detrimental to even muscle development.

For paddlers, it is important to note that the shoulder joint is supported very loosely by a set of muscles and tendons and is very injury prone without training the proper range of motion for the shoulder.

When the paddling stroke is trained in perfect conditions, muscles are correctly taught to move that way. However, the parameters of the sport differ depending on water density, wind conditions, and water chop. If the muscles are not conditioned to adapt to a wider range of motion that is sometimes needed to overcome wake or increased resistance, injuries occur.

It is important to strengthen and maintain rotator cuff muscles to control excessive shoulder movement. It is also important to work the posterior shoulder and back muscles for the shoulder joint to work properly. All exercises must always be performed in the full range of motion, allowing for your muscles to be accustomed to loads at every angle. By training the shoulders and back through their full range of motion, the muscles that hold the scapula in the correct position will be strengthened and the risk of injury reduced.

Aside from strengthening shoulders, stretching and mobility work is often overlooked. Flexibility is the range of motion of a joint non-specifically in the shoulder and mobility is about range of motion under specific circumstances. Both together will decrease your likelihood of injury if your shoulder moves into an injury prone position.

Most injuries happen when the body is moved in a way that hasn’t been trained, for example, getting your paddle stuck behind you during wavy water conditions. It is vital to incorporate isolated shoulder mobility exercises into your workout, especially if you are an individual who is suffering form shoulder pain.

A common injury for paddlers is impingement syndrome, which occurs when the tendon of the rotator cuff muscles become inflamed as it passes through the passage beneath the acromion. Again, to avoid this injury, among others, it’s important to have good mobility and flexibility in in the shoulder and develop good posture and work to increase strength in the rotator cuff muscle.

Do you have any problem areas when it comes to pain management and dragon boat training? Tell us in the comment section below!

Happy paddling!

A version of this article was originally posted to the Paddlecore Blog.

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