Common Kayaking Injuries

Kayaking is a whole lot of fun as an outdoor water activity. It also happens to have its fair share of possible injuries as a physical activity. Many kayakers in the UK remark that injuries while kayaking are not all that common. This reinforces the popular belief that kayaking is a very healthy activity.

A foreknowledge of essential safety equipment for kayaking is indispensable to any kayaker out there and is expected to be the first line of defence against injury. Even then, injuries while kayaking may not be totally unavoidable. Some injuries have to do with the repetitive nature of the very movements that help a kayaker move around. The use of protective gear does nothing to the chances of getting injuries like this. In this piece, we shall attempt to discuss kayaking injuries and ways that we can prevent them. Let’s dive right in.

Shoulder injuries

Injuries to the shoulder are typically the most common kind of injuries experienced by kayakers. Injuries to the shoulder can really mean anything from the relatively more common rotator cuff injuries to the less common dislocations, tendinitis, and bursitis. To understand the nature of injuries to the shoulder, a quick description of its anatomy will be helpful.

The long bone of the arm is the humerus that fits into a round joint in the shoulder blade known as the glenoid cavity. The rotator cuff is a combination of 4 muscles- and their tendons that surround this joint and keep it stable. Injuries to the rotator cuff basically refer to irritation, inflammation, or tearing of one or more of these muscles or their tendons. The nature of movements that the shoulder performs during paddling- the wide range and repetitive nature makes it vulnerable to these injuries.

Generally, kayakers who try to overextend their arms or straighten their arms forcefully and suddenly are more likely to have these injuries. Shoulder injuries also happen more frequently when kayakers try to recover from a potential capsize. Depending on the severity of the injury, rotator cuff injuries can be classified into three grades. The grade 3 injury usually needs surgery to repair the torn muscle/tendon fibres.

Signs of a rotator cuff injury can range anywhere from mild shoulder pain to a sudden inability to move the shoulder. In some cases, the moment injury occurs might be felt as a sudden popping or tearing sensation.

Tips to avoid shoulder injuries while kayaking

Typically, this involves actions before, during, and after kayaking. How do we mean? Before each trip, one should perform some stretching routines. Spending a couple of minutes doing these four shoulder stretching exercises before and after kayaking is a good start. Combine these with the standard push-ups and pull-ups, and you’re good to go.

During kayaking, paddling with the proper technique(link) is essential. Focus on keeping the paddle in front, right where you can see it. Low braces are preferable to high ones as there’s less risk to the shoulders. It might seem unrelated, but caution while unpacking or packing one’s kayak is also advised. This is especially true for those who transport their kayaks on top of their vehicles. Better still, use lightweight kayaks.

Is kayaking with a shoulder injury okay? Well, you might want to include a professional medical opinion in this decision-making. Even if you can, it’s best to keep it simple to avoid more damage. One rule of thumb is always to seek medical advice when redness and swelling are involved. However, a safer approach would be to always seek medical advice for any injury while kayaking.

Back injuries

The yak back is a common term used by kayakers to describe the lower back pain and stiffness sometimes associated with a day out kayaking. The good news is that most back pain usually ceases after some care. Proper positioning and paddling techniques can actually make all the difference in the world where kayaking back injuries are concerned. The key is to prevent overloading of the spinal column. Let’s briefly talk about the anatomy of the back.

The muscles of the back that do the most work are the Lats, Rhomboids, and Trapezius. They provide stability to the core body and assist the shoulders during paddling. Kayaking in itself is actually an excellent way to strengthen these muscles. Of course, the nature of the body movements during kayaking also puts a strain on these muscles, which can cause injury.

Tips to avoid back injuries while kayaking

Positioning is key. You definitely want to find the best kayak that affords you comfort and puts no strain on your back. Sit-in kayaks usually prove to be better than sit-up kayaks in this regard. You can also decide to add special kayak seats to your set-up.  Posturing is very important too. How do you sit properly?

While sitting, be sure to stretch out your legs in front of you. They should be bent at the knees with the feet resting on the pegs. The back should be aligned straight but shouldn’t be tense.

Be careful while carrying objects, such as your kayak. Lifting heavy objects is another way to cause injury to one’s back.

There are also some stretching exercises that can be performed before and after kayaking as they help flexibility. You could also try something as simple as bending over to touch your toes or bending sideways. These exercises can help loosen up the muscles pre-kayaking and ease post-kayaking soreness.

As much as you can, change positions while kayaking. This might be impractical, but sometimes, one might find a few spots to take a break and regain some strength. You can even hold off on paddling and stretch a little in calmer waters.

After a long day out kayaking, some back soreness is normal. This isn’t your cue to fold up and stop moving around. Try to stretch out the sore muscles. Keeping them undisturbed might actually tense them up more and lead to more pain. Try some ice and massage too.

Some back soreness might not stop you from going kayaking, but it’s important to take it easy in the water. Better still, injuries should be well managed at home or the doctor’s before kayaking is resumed.

Wrist injuries

Paddling requires continuous movements at the wrist joints. This opens the wrist up to injuries due to friction. These movements are actually normal for the wrist. But, there’s the added weight of handling a paddle that is driving through water. One common injury in this region is tendonitis. This refers to an inflammation of tendons(structures that connect muscles to bones) in the wrist region. De Quervain’s tendonitis is an inflammation of the two wrist tendons at the base of the thumb. It’s a common form of tendonitis that affects the wrist. The wrist may be swollen, and movements become restricted and painful.

Another injury at the wrist is the Carpal tunnel syndrome. The median nerve is a nerve that runs from the shoulder to the hand. It enters the hand at the wrist through a passage known as the carpal tunnel. Pressure on the nerve at this region can cause hand weakness, tingling, and numbness.

Tips to avoid wrist injuries while kayaking

To prevent tendonitis, a few adjustments to techniques of gripping and paddling need to be made. Try to loosen your grip on the paddle. Hold it firm but not too tightly. Be mindful of your forward stroke; try to shorten it. A paddle with a smaller blade is better for avoiding wrist injury.

In the case of carpal tunnel syndrome, a useful tip is to stop extreme wrist flexion movements. Wrist flexion is that movement when you bend your hand forward at the wrist with your palm facing downwards. Generally, with wrist injuries, it’s advised that one takes a break away from paddling. The inflammation needs to get better. The chances are that the wrist injury will not even allow for much movement in the first place. Medical attention should be sought too.

Other kayaking injuries and how to prevent them

There are a host of other possible kayaking injuries apart from the ones previously mentioned. We shall now attempt to do justice to some of them. Hypothermia is a real concern. Endeavour to be conscious of weather conditions before heading out. A wet suit or thermal clothing will help in a situation like this. A loose shirt with a wide-brimmed hat is better under the hot sun to prevent heat stress. Sunglasses and sunscreen will also prove handy for a sunny day out kayaking. These measures help against sunburn.

Some kayakers may also suffer near-drowning experiences in turbulent water or when their kayak capsizes. It’s best to know how to swim as a kayaker. Sea kayakers are also exposed to injuries from sea creatures. Coral reefs, box jellyfishes, insects are some of the ones you might have an encounter with. Some unlucky ones may have fatal encounters with sharks. The use of protective clothing may protect against some of these injuries.

Generally speaking, it’s advisable to always be aware of weather conditions before heading out to kayak. Avoid extreme conditions like thunderstorms, high winds, and extreme temperatures. Do not attempt paddling at night unless you’re well equipped with night vision gadgets and have the experience.

In conclusion, kayaking injuries should never deter you from enjoying your favourite outdoor sport. Take the necessary precautions, and you’re sure to enjoy your kayaking afternoons to the maximum.

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