Kayak Elbow

A recent student just got a new paddle and discovered that they had kayak elbow.


What is kayak elbow?  It is like tennis elbow, BlackBerry Thumb, and cell phone elbow.  This is a common condition caused by repeat motion.  The overuse predisposes a person to a tendinitis injury or aggravating an underlying arthritic joint.  Poor form during the forward stroke can cause an overuse of arm and forearm muscles that may result in elbow pain.  I have personally experienced this type of pain.

For me it would appear paddling in heavy winds and chop.  I could not figure out how I was overusing my forearm until I video taped myself one day to recreate the pain.  I discovered that I was guilty of a few things.  After eight hours of paddling I was flexing the wrists and pulling with my right bicep during some braces, and stern draws. The video also relieved that I did not have a consistent relaxed grip on the paddle in heavy winds and chop.

My remedy before I paddle is to warm up my wrists before I paddle rough weather.  On the way to the boat launch or just after breakfast (if I am kayak camping) I warm up with some light exercises.

I do the same wrist and forearm exercises that rock climbers do to warm up, relax, and strengthen the writs.  I use the following hand strengtheners: Dynaflex Lighted Gyro Power Ball, Gripmaster Hand Strengthener, Power Putty Hand Strengthener.

DynaFlexGripmasterPower Putty Hand Strengthener

At home I focus on exercising the pushing muscles: pectorals, triceps, et cetera.   I do push ups, and use hand weights with tricep extensions and shoulder exercises.

I sit at a desk and type a lot.  So healthy maintenance of my mussels and joints is key to keeping me on the water.

Sometimes I even wear a paddling glove that has some wrist support  without  constricting tendons. And I focus on paddling on a relaxed grip even when I am excited with what the water is doing.

The most important thing is that I DO NOT PREFORM COLD STRETCHING.  There are a lot of analogies about the dangers of cold stretching.  Like starting an engine that has been sitting out in the snow to blowing up a brand new balloon.  The basics is that a person is more prone to pull a muscle or aggravate a tendon during a cold stretch than if they increases the blood flow to a muscle by warming up the body.

—I hope this helps, Jeff

PS.  If you are using a feathered paddle set it at 60 degrees.  The change in degrees can also help decrease pain.


UPDATE: This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 27th, 2010 on the Human Kinetics Sport / Health / Fitness blog

Give cortisone the elbow

Cortisone injections which offer short term relief for painful tendon problems, such as tennis elbow, can actually prolong the condition, a University of Queensland study has shown.

According to Professor of Sports Physiotherapy with UQ’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Bill Vicenzino, the study showed doctors should be advising patients there were more effective treatments available.

“There is a tendency for the majority of those following a wait-and-see policy to get better at six to 12 months, but this is not the case with steroid injection – they tend to lag behind these time frames significantly,” Professor Vicenzino said.

“Doctors should indicate that while these injections produce rapid improvements they are short lived in the majority of patients with a high risk of recurrence of the condition and long term poor outcomes compared to adopting a wait-and-see policy.”

Professor Vicenzino said many new injections had not been studied and required further in-depth investigations, as did the benefits of combining injections and physiotherapy.

“More work is needed before we can be confident in strongly recommending a treatment,” he said.

“There is solid evidence that whatever passive treatment is used (such as injections, gene therapy, laser, mobilisation with movements, etc.) it is likely to fail in the long term if exercise is not part of the management plan.”

Source: University of Queensland

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