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  • Writer's pictureJonny Hawkins

Guarding Against Shoulder Dislocations

Updated: May 16, 2022

The dislocation of a shoulder is a common injury in white water kayaking and we as paddlers can do a great deal to avoid it.

The Risk

The shoulder is possibly the weakest joint mechanically in the body. It can dislocate quite easily. Kayakers build up muscle on the back of the shoulder that actually makes things worse. The imbalance between muscles at the back and front leads to kayakers most commonly dislocating forward. Recovery is slow, often many months and even years and sometimes incomplete leaving the same shoulder very vulnerable. Repeated dislocation may require surgery. Ouch! Some paddlers have to give up the sport. Double ouch!

Typical causes on the river

· An unexpected wobble or flip leads to a late high brace.

· An upstream capsize in a hole and you stick out your paddle.

· Upside down you set up for a roll and your paddle hits an underwater rock.

What can we do?

Build balance into your shoulders by warming up and also by doing pushing exercises as well as paddling. Literally, push-ups are good for you the kayaker! Backward paddling in your warm up is too!

Learn to paddle “inside the box”. This means performing strokes and manoeuvres inside a box that includes the line across both shoulders and is in front of you. Kayakers often reach outside this “box” because of lack of rotation of the trunk, over extending arms or panic when falling in. To counter this, you need to improve your trunk rotation and keep arms bent when applying power, using rudder strokes, braces or rolling.

Stay calm when performing braces and rolls. Practice good technique. A high brace - you must “hang” from the paddle shaft with right angles at the elbows. A low brace - you must press down on the paddle shaft with right angles at the elbows. If you are going over and its too late, forcing you to over-reach, then tuck and execute a solid roll. It is safer. When rolling, make sure you are set up before starting. With practice you can set up as you are falling in until that becomes second nature

Chris demonstrating a safe high brace shape staying "in the box"

Prevention is better than cure. Read the river carefully, avoid unexpected wobbles by paying attention to the detail of the river. It’s no shame to portage a tricky rapid if you are unsure. Train; your shoulders, your technique and your mind.

If you dislocate a shoulder...

You have our sympathy. Take time to mend and then implement steps 1 to 4 above.

Join us on one of our white water courses if you are keen to learn more about preventing shoulder dislocations.

Written by Chris Dickinson.

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