What is the one injury most common amongst whitewater paddlers?
Shoulder dislocation due to general instability and lack of strength within the shoulder capsule.
The shoulder joint is what is known as a ball-and-socket joint in which the ball of the humerus sits in a socket created by the glenoid fossa of the scapula. The scapula is the location of various muscle attachments: your rotator cuff muscles, deltoid, as well as Teres minor and major. Beyond the shoulder blade, there are many muscles, including the biceps brachii, triceps, etc that attach to the humerus and effect overall shoulder strength.
Long story short, there are a lot of muscles that we rely on to give stability to our shoulder joints. If these muscles are weak, we may have instability within the capsule and be putting ourselves at a greater risk of dislocation and injury.
Here's a few strengthening exercises for those who want to mix up their routine, or start lifting weights. Remember, it's never too late to get started on a good strength and/or cardio program!
Front Shoulder Raise:
Start by holding a set of dumbbells at about hip height, with fingers curled downward. Raise the dumbbells upward, in front of your body until your hands are about shoulder height. Slowly lower the weights to their original position. Repeat for 3 sets of 8-10.
With a dumbbell in each hand, palm facing downward, lift the dumbbell straight up from your sides. Focus on using your shoulders, rather than your back, and keeping your torso straight. Lower the dumbbells slowly to their original position. Repeat for 3 sets of 8-10.
The shoulder shrug can be done with either a barbell or a set of dumbbells. If you are holding a barbell, hold it with an overhand grip (fingers curling towards you) with your hands about shoulder width apart. If you are holding a dumbbell in each hand, hold one on each side of your body, with fingers curling toward you. When ready, lift the weight/weight straight upward as far as you can. Hold for three seconds, then slowly return the weight to its starting position. Focus on bringing your shoulders to your ears. Repeat for 3 sets of 8-10.
This exercise is best performed seated on a bench, however as you progress in fitness, don't be afraid to try it sitting on an exercise ball. To start, hold the weights in your hands, shoulder height, with palms facing forward. Sit up tall, and lift your hands straight upward toward the ceiling until you reach full extension. Then, slowly lower the dumbbells back to shoulder height. When executing this exercise, exhale and tighten your abs when lifting, inhale when lowering. If you find yourself unable to keep a nice, tall posture when lifting, try bringing your hands slightly forward during the lift. If this does not help, drop the amount of weight you are lifting. It is important to maintain good posture and lift with your shoulders, not your low back. Repeat for 3 sets of 8-10.
When performing strengthening exercises, the emphasis is on the SLOW return of weights to their original position. This eccentric strengthening of the muscle has been found to be associated with greater muscle strengthening than concentric exercises (simply lifting the weight upward). If you want to focus on muscle endurance, choose a weight that will allow you to do a greater the number of reps, 10+. If you want to focus on strength, choose a weight that will allow you to perform 6-8 reps.
These exercises can be performed with various other upper body exercises, and may be performed every other day, as to give your body a rest day between exercises. Be sure to replenish your body with a nutritional meal post-workout.
While these exercises do not specifically target the shoulders, they do aid in stabilizing the shoulder joint, and overall strength of the upper body: pull-ups, pushups, rows.
Keep those shoulders strong, and have fun on the river!
**Kim Russell has a B.S. in Human Physiology from the University of Oregon. She is currently working as a Physical Therapist Aide, earning glances into stretches, strengthening exercises and mobilization techniques for paddlers. These techniques are ones that she has found to work for herself in strengthening her shoulder muscles, and may not be suitable for some individuals. Consult your physician before trying any of these exercises.**