are kayakers prone to shoulder injuries?

i was reading another thread where it was suggested that kayakers are more prone to shoulder injuries than canoe paddlers. is that true? it does seem like an unnatural motion, like a pitcher’s motion – which was one of the references in the former post. i’m thinking of trying surf skis. don’t like sea kayaks, but skis are appealing.


– Last Updated: Jan-10-08 6:22 PM EST –

repetitive motion and high bracing seems to cause the issues with those too caught up in marketing hype to learn how to paddle a proper single bladed craft :-). A couple of my friends have come through or are going into therapy due to the repetition of the cursed double blade, and another friend took 10 weeks off after following me off a cl.4 drop and blowing his shoulder out while high bracing.He joined us on a local cl.2-3 run last weekend and was still sore, but glad to be back on the water. I'll take my canoes any day. No skirt, every stroke different in WW, gotta love it.

Don’t have statistics. After 34 years
canoeing and 17 years kayaking whitewater, I just got my first serious shoulder injury… trying to pull a tree down with a throw rope.

I think one reason I have done ok is my torso height… I’m less likely to get my upper arm too high when high bracing.

While canoeing, I have gotten some minor soreness in the top of my right shoulder (very left-sided paddler) from high effort paddling, but I don’t count that as injury, just use strain. I have friends who switched to kayak because of knee problems canoeing, and they have not reported shoulder problems…but they are quite experienced and know not to get their arms into vulnerable positions.

WW paddlers yes. They sit around the campfire talking about their last dislocation.

shoulder injuries while kayaking
Dude, the attitude isn’t needed.

WW kayaking and surfing is risky for shoulder if elbow is allowed to move out from body and/or hand moves back of shoulder- keeping elbow at body and hand in front of shoulder greatly reduces risk. High brace position carries higher risk.

I have canoed all my life (spent 70’s canoeing and poling the Farmington) and have also kayaked for the last 5 years. Now in my 60’s and with a surgically repaired shoulder from a fall on ice, I find narrow double blades with flexible shafts are easiest on my shoulder and allow me to continue to do the paddling I’ve loved all my life. Emphasizing trunk rotation during stroke also helps. A wide single blade with a stiff shaft (just what I wanted in my WW days) causes shoulder irritation within an hour and a severe ache if I go much longer.

If your body still lets you use single blades as the years pile on, continued to do so. Many canoeists have used single blades until the end of their paddling days. However, if like many in their late 50’s and 60’s you experience shoulder problems from all the misadventures in your lifetime, try narrow double blades with a flexible shaft to continue canoeing or kayaking.

If you ever want to paddle down the Bantam and around the lake for a few hours anytime. email me and I’m game.


Single blades also come in smaller
blade sizes, not just kayak paddles.

I can’t handle large bladed and heavy canoe paddles, but my 10oz Zaveral has a relatively small blade which I can use all day with relatively little strain compared to the larger bladed paddles - just like with the double bladed paddles.

I think that the blade size, weight and proper sizing are the keys, not just whether it’s a double blade or single blade.

I completely agree that the smaller bladed kayak paddles, such as the AT Xception SL and Epic Relaxed Tour with the burgundy (more flexible) shaft are easier on the shoulders and joints than the larger bladed and stiffer paddles.

try rowing
Rowing never bothers my shoulders like paddling or my knees like canoeing.

It gives you a whole new list of things to torture. If you row too much too soon it hurts to open and hold a beer can.

So if you wear out your shoulder you’ll still be able to get on the water by rowing.

Canoeing doesn’t have to bother knees.
You don’t have to kneel to canoe.

yes you do!

the traditional Canadian…

blade size
Hey Yanoer,

I agree blade size does matter with singles also. At the start of a beginners freestyle course last summer I was seduced into choosing a wonderful wide light weight wood paddle against my better judgment. It was so beautifully constructed that I had to use it-I think it was a Quimbly. Anyway, after about 1.5 hours my shoulder was screaming. Went to the instructor and asked for the narrowest blade he had with the most flexible shaft. Finished with a narrow ash blade with much less protesting from my shoulder. Then came the ice and vitamin I.


purely tongue in cheek
without kayakers I’d have no in state shuttle buddies, that’s for sure. WW paddlers, single and double blades, are always ribbing each other about the downfalls of the others choice of propulsion. “half the paddle, twice the paddler.” “If it was easy, they’d call it kayaking” etc… all tongue in cheek…well mostly all.

Stay In The "Box…"
Reaching outside the box for a high brace puts the shoulder in a weak and dangerous position. Better to go over and roll up then trying for an extremely stretched out brace.


On the subject of shuttle buddies, you single blades or “The Superior Race” as I have heard your kind refer to themselves, are never shy about taking up the space of three yaks, and we double blades are always happy to oblige.

But, ask one of you guys to carry a nalgene bottle or small drybag and the eyes start to roll:-) (my tongue is planted purely in my cheek:-)

Back on track, I have had a torn shoulder muscle that took 10 months to heal properly. Blew it out when I missed an eddy during a drop and had to fight to stay out of strainer. I let my left hand drift way out back and the pressure was too much.

I think the traumatic shoulder injuries are more prone to the whitewater crowd, but I think Pnetter STICKMAN dislocated his shoulder in a sea kayak on a lake. Not for sure of the circumstances.

Later Jay


– Last Updated: Jan-11-08 12:07 PM EST –

I, as a "superior single blader" ;-0(never heard that one before, but I'll have to remember it and reference your name when mentioned ;-)), always arrive at the takeout with my pickup truck, often dropping my canoes and son off at the put in, at least on my local run. My rack with outriggers holds 3 canoes, sometimes 1 more canoe in the bed, 4 kayaks and 4 people. I find my canoe friends can all carry 2 canoes minimum, while those double bladers seem to show up in a sub-compact, no racks, yak in the passenger seat, flat tire, asking if I have spare oil, patch kit, and jumper cables. Hang on, I gotta pull up my pants cuffs now :-)

not talking about WW
i’m more interested the motions a sea kayaker or surf ski paddler would use.


– Last Updated: Jan-11-08 11:40 AM EST –

Seakayakers have been known to "dislocate" their shoulders as well. If you paddle in anything but FLAT conditions, you'll have to throw a brace in there, now and again, to stay upright.

If you paddle in the box and use torso rotation, your chances of injuring a shoulder is next to 'nil. If you find yourself in pain, or hurting yourself, then the likely culprit is trying to do too much too soon. This is the big cause of a lot injuries to over-enthusiastic folks getting into a relatively new activity.


Two Handles, Have You?

what sing said
I’ve had RC tears in both shoulders. Getting into a kayak was a bit trying, but I believe good form used often actually helped my recovery. Not just with your stroke, but maintaining that ‘box’ during bracing/recovery strokes and corrective strokes. If you can’t keep your elbows in, sometimes it’s better to just go over and roll back up.

No surf skier here but I think you’re going to have the same issues regardless.

After 2 shoulder operations
in 2005, my surgeon, a shoulder specialist at Duke University Hospital, encouraged me to take up either kayaking or canoeing (I do the latter). He owns both kayaks and canoes.

I’ve been
sea kayaking for 7 years now, did ww kayaking and canoeing for 20 years before that—although you can hurt your shoulder sea kayaking its much more likely if you like to play in heavy surf where the high brace is often used(that’s what sing likes to do) In regular conditions, even when its rough(say 2-4 foot chop) the low brace is much more commonly used and you are less likely to hurt your shoulder—a couple of years ago after a full summer of paddling I noticed a problem with the ROM in my left shoulder and had just a bit of pain—not bad enough to go to the doctor for—took a couple of months off from paddling in the winter and by spring was fine.