Update: So far one person has volunteered to do some data analysis. If anyone else interested feel free to shoot me an email.
In January 2016 I released an online survey with the intent of determining whether shoulder injury rates differed among whitewater kayakers who used bent shaft or straight shaft paddles. Shoulder injuries are incredibly prevalent with whitewater paddlers, and I was personally interested in the data since I sustained multiple subluxations while kayaking, which ultimately resulted in surgery.
Many kayakers must have had a similar level of interest in this subject since there were over 2,700 responses. I fully expected less than 100 responses, but the survey truly went viral. Thanks for providing that data and rallying to spread the survey around! Unfortunately there are many confounding factors present, and I never had the time or technical skill to do justice to the sheer amount of data collected in the survey. I'd like to say I could put aside time for a project like this, but I'll be starting medical school next week and I don't think it's going to happen. Thus I'm making the raw data public so that people can sift through it if they're interested. If anyone with a strong background in statistics analyzes the data and finds some interesting results I'd be happy to post the results here or provide a link pointing visitors to those findings. Just leave a comment at the end of the article, or shoot me an email.
Here are the two surveys with links to the Excel files. The survey was updated slightly in the second version based on comments from previous respondents. Note that all results are unedited, but any email addresses included by the respondents were removed for privacy.
There are a variety of opinions on whether bent shaft or straight shaft paddles play a direct role in influencing injury rates, but based on a quick scan of the results there's no question that high bracing and improper technique account for a vast majority of the shoulder injuries among paddlers. Wondering about your technique? Check out this great article by Ken Whiting on preventing shoulder injuries through technique. In addition, quite a few comments mention that underdevelopment of muscles, such as the lower trapezius, can predispose someone to shoulder injuries.
Here are some notable quotes from the surveys regarding these two topics (spelling is unedited):
Hi, I've been a paddler for 50 years, 40+ whitewater, instructor for 35 years. Over that time, I've known 3 or 4 people with shoulder dislocations, heard of lots more, though none for nearly 20 years. You have made me think about it again as it's not something that's worried me for years. In the UK, when there was a spate of shoulder dislocations, the reasons were analysed by coaches of the BCU and the key reason was seen to be badly executed High Brace. The old high brace from the days of 13' glass slalom kayaks was always shown with the whole arm above shoulder height and the elbow straight. This resulted in a direct pull on the shoulder joint should the supporting blade catch a rock, get an excessive pull in a big hole etc. and the pull on the straight arm resulted in the dislocation. This was such a strong likelihood that I took advice from an army medic on handling it in the field and possible relocation in the field. The training and training materials were modified to have the elbow bent (as much as 90 degrees) and the hand between waist and armpit height, NEVER above shoulder height. This change has meant that shoulder dislocations have mostly disappeared. The low arm position and bent elbow act as a shock absorber/damper and give the paddler time to "unload" the blade.
I was 100 yards from the takeout on Class II boogie, not paying attention. When I flipped, the water was so sallow that my knuckles were dragging on the river bed. I initiated a back deck roll by essentially doing a push up off of the river bed. My paddle blade caught a rock and pulled my shoulder back. 4 months to full recovery from a rotator cuff strain. Lesson learned: you're not done paddling until both of your feet are on dry ground.
The issue of shoulder inhury is mostly texhnique and good instruction. I see many teaching rolling incorrectly which leads to undue stess on the shoulder. Also poor mechanics being taught as well improper bracing.
Flipped in the Notch at Gorilla, landed in a highbrace, subluxing my right shoulder. I've used a Werner bentshaft Sidekick for about 5 years. I was just a sloppy paddler than, I've been putting a ton of focus into technique and how I paddle now. No more injuries and my shoulder is now stronger than its ever been
I was on an extremely high brace way out of the paddler's "box." I think the injury would have happened with either type of shaft.
At the time I injured my left shoulder I was comfortably paddling small and big volume class V on a regular basis and I had previously earned a spot on the Canadian National Freestyle Team. I don't attribute my injury to my paddle in any way. I was careless when I set up for the offside back-deck roll and I underestimated the power of the hole I was playing in. The physiotherapist who worked with me to rehab my shoulder identified a major under development of my lower traps and a number of other muscles in my back. She warned me that if I didn't even out the muscles surrounding my shoulder blades, namely my lower traps, with my pecs and the muscles in the front of my shoulder I was likely to experience the same injury again. For the next two months I was quite diligent in doing the strengthening exercises I was shown and I tried not to rush back into whitewater. I paddled a sea kayak on flat water to keep up my range of motion and maintain strength. I worked hard to improve the strength of my under developed lower traps and muscles surrounding my shoulder blades. After 2 months off and easing back in to paddling hard whitewater I have been able to stay shoulder injury free and I've had a number of years of paddling hard whitewater.
It has now almost been 12 months till the surgery and I am comfortable paddling again, however the should remains weak and attempts to protect it have altered my paddling style. The sport therapist advertising me, pointed out that a significant contributor to the initial injury was the postural change of my scapulas (being pulled apart and forward) leading to a weakening of the superior serretus muscles and supporting scapula and deltoid muscles. I have invested considerable time into countering this process by a range of counter activities to strengthen the back muscles
It was interesting to read these responses and each person's analysis of what caused the injury as well as their recovery afterward. In the end, I hope that data from this survey will go towards good use in the paddling community, even if it doesn't end up summarized with a nice set of figures and graphs. Paddle type still remains a very personal choice, but the greater theme here is to protect your shoulders through proper technique and muscle conditioning so that kayaking can be a sustainable, lifelong sport.
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