SUP Overuse Injuries
Stand up paddle boarding has taken off everywhere there's water: on flat-water, in the surf, and on whitewater. With it come a number of potential problems. Correctly touted as an excellent core workout, a discussion of effective training methods and possible injuries are often overlooked...until something starts to hurt. By then it's too late. Overuse injuries are common. While the overuse injuries in SUP are similar to other paddle sports, they are are exacerbated by the increased leverage of the paddle and the standing position. In order to propel the board forward force must be transmitted from the paddle through the paddler's entire body. Joints are the week points: wrists, elbows, shoulders, back, knees, and ankles. The exact process that makes stand up paddling so good for your core also makes it potentially bad for your joints. There are six things you need to consider when training/paddling SUPs:
You can reduce the strain on your joints by decreasing the length of your paddle, choosing a more flexible paddle shaft, and choosing a small blade size. Decreasing the paddle length directly reduces the size of the lever and therefore the strain on your body. In addition, a shorter paddle lowers your top hand and directly reduces forces on your rotator cuff, shoulder tendons, and cervical spine compression. That said, you don't want a paddle that is too short either as this will cause you to bend over more and increase the strain on your lower back.
A flexible paddle shaft absorbs some of the explosive energy during the catch phase of a stroke and spreads the energy release throughout the stroke's length; this dramatically decreases the initial impact on your joints and the potential for damage. Alternatives to carbon-fiber (the stiffest) and fiber-glass blades (next in line) are wood and bamboo.
A smaller blade size reduces the surface area of the blade and the amount of energy required for each stroke. While you can purchase smaller blades commercially, you can also cut down the size of your current blade with a jig saw (remember to smooth/sand the edges if you work on your own paddle).
Each individual is unique. Injuries, age, fitness, strength, and flexibility all play an important part in determining what kind of paddling you choose to do and how you approach doing it. For instance, if you have low back problems, it's a better choice to paddle on flat water than in strong whitewater or surf as the sudden movements required for either whitewater paddling or surfing will increase the likelihood of low back injury as you attempt to react to the required changes. Don't ignore your body's history or what it tells you as you paddle and after.
Learning the proper paddling technique and paddling on both sides of your board is vital to preventing overuse injuries. Your muscles are designed to be in balance and, in order to prevent injury, you need to keep it that way by learning to paddle correctly on both sides of your board. This may be more difficult that it sounds when surfing or paddling in whitewater as paddlers tend to favor one side or the other.
Strength & Flexibility Training
If you want to paddle on a regular basis, you'll benefit by spending some time cross-training to avoid injuries. A quick web-search will reveal a number of SUP specific training regimes; one is sure to meet your needs.
The Type of Paddling You Do
Paddling SUPs on flat-water, in the surf, and on whitewater requires different equipment and skills. The forces on your body are different as well. This means that the types of injuries you can sustain are somewhat specific to the type of paddling you do. Flat-water paddling is typically limited to overuse injuries. While surf and whitewater paddlers are also susceptible to the same overuse injuries as flat-water paddling, moving water is strong and paddling in it increases the chances of muscle and tendon damage; furthermore, traumatic injuries and drowning are also possible.
Looking for a reliable field reference? Consider consider purchasing one of our print or digital handbooks; our digital handbook apps are available in English, Spanish, and Japanese. Updates are free for life. A digital SOAP note app is also available.
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