Paddling Injuries

Injuries can occur from a variety of causes.  Some can occur almost instantly through specific trauma such as a strong impact or strain.  Other injuries can develop over a period of time.  In many cases (except for perhaps major trauma) there are a multitude of contributing factors that increase the risk of injury long before a person feels pain or significant effect.

This earlier point about risk is something that you should realize about sport-related injuries.  If you’re a new paddler or have never paddled before but were considering joining the sport, consider that being new or trying something new holds greater risk of injury because you are A) inexperienced and will have poor technique and B) you may not have adequate fitness to paddle at higher intensities.  If you are an experienced paddler, risk takes on a different meaning.  Your technique (good or bad) has become habit which establishes repetition.  Dragon boat is asymmetrical by nature whereas our bodies perform best when we are more symmetrical.  If you are paddling in an unbalanced manner (through technique and or strength) then you have an elevated risk of injury.

Minimizing risk can be achieved by working on several concepts.  A paddler at lower risk for injury has:

1.  Good general health.  This person has other health-related factors managed well.  This may include old injuries, health of the pulmonary system, cardiac system and other internal organs.  Having good contact with your doctor and being diligent on your end is the best way to achieve this.

2.  Good flexibility.  Dragon boat is a sport that flows.  It requires a certain degree of physical flexibility for good technique and power generation.  Being “tight” in terms of the joints and muscles can restrict your range of motion, putting added stress on tight structures themselves and on neighboring body parts as well.  Tight structures may also strain more easily.  Conversely, being “too” flexible may make structures weak and unstable, also increasing risk of injury.  Finding the right balance of flexibility to allow you to paddle through the range required for good technique is key.  Proper coaching on technique and learning about flexibility are cornerstones to meeting this goal.

3.  Good strength.  Dragon boat is a sprint sport.  It is strenuous and fatiguing.  Developing the larger muscle groups can help reduce fatigue and increase power output, but specific training for stabilizing muscle groups is also key to reducing the risk of the injury.  Large muscles, along with great power output, also work to destabilize your body.  The mechanical insertion points of these muscles can pull your joints out of their most stable position.  Smaller muscle groups such as the (in)famous rotator cuff and others serve to stabilize your joints to keep them in a position of lower stress.  Stabilizing muscle groups also help with improving fine control of your joints, allowing you to put down power from larger muscles in an efficient manner.

4.  Good nutrition and understanding energy expenditure.  This topic is very much related to Item #1.  With good nutrition, a paddler can facilitate better recovery from exercise and improve performance during practice and events.  If eating right accounts for what goes in, understanding energy expenditure accounts for what comes out (get your mind out of the toilet, literally).  By knowing what fuels your body is utilizing at specific levels of exertion, you can train to emphasize those systems and minimize the creation of undesired end products that can adversely affect performance.

5.  Good body awareness.  Good athletes know when to stop and how to push hard in a smart way.  Rarely does an athlete perform at their best when losing all control and discipline during activity.  The aspect of physically exerting beyond  your safe ability to do so vastly increases your risk of injury.  Developing the ability to listen to your body is key.  The way to develop this is to slowly and gradually expand your comfort zone of training without overexerting.

This section will be aimed at educating readers on some varieties of potential injury related to the sport of dragon boat and how to best prevent them.

As always, the material presented here is not intended to diagnose or treat an injury or any disease process.  If you have been injured, you should follow up with your physician.  Procrastination can potentially mean a longer recovery or worse prognosis for full recovery.  If you feel it’s serious, don’t let it ride!  (cheesy alright, but really)

Topics

The Neck

The Shoulder

The Elbow

The Wrist & Hand

The Back

The Knee

The Ankle & Foot

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