Arthritis / Tendonitis From Paddling???


I have been having pain in my control hand lately. It gets worse during / after paddling. It is a pain in my knuckles and inbetween them and exctends back toward my wrist about a half inch. It causes me pain whenever I grip something hard—like openeing a bottle or jar.

I try to paddle with a loose grip, but this does not really help much.

Does anyone else get problems like this in their hands from paddling? Is this some sort of a paddlers syndrome?

I do have problems with tendonitis in other joints. Not sure if this is related.


two possibilities
generally any tendonitis in the arm(s) comes from two things: a too tight grip and/or too much arm use rather than torso rotation.

telling you how to correct these issues is easy. you actually accomplishing either or both is far more difficult. a good instructor can help. have someone take video of yourself while paddling can help. visualization can help but less so since many paddlers are simply not attuned to their own bodies when using parts thereof.

This was in a previous post:
IMHO, I think a lot of hand pain (don’t know about arms) comes from today’s Euro style paddles and I don’t mean the blades, those are just fine, I mean the shafts. I have yet to hear someone mention hand problems from using a Greenland style paddle. It may be because of less resistance but I really think it has more to do with the shape of the GRIP. I used to get wrist pain and finger joint pain from Euro paddles (I can hardly use the car wash sprayers for a couple of minutes). My belief is that a small diameter round shaft puts all the stress out on the ends of the finger or the last joint and also forces you to curl your fingers more to grasp it. The combination of those things cause me pain (I’m sure it’s different for everyone).

I’m not suggesting anyone to convert over to a G paddle but I sure wish paddle designer would give this some thought. Round is just easier and cheaper.

I built my Euro Surf paddle unfeathered and with an oval shaft (1.5" x 1.125" with the widest perpendicular to blades) and big blades. I can use it all day (well until the rest of me gives out) even with the extra force and strain of paddling in surf.

If you believe in traditional paddle designs of thousands of years across North America you’ll not find any round shafted paddles either single or double. Or I should say I haven’t, though there aren’t a whole lot of originals left.

Probably has nothing to do with your arms but I thought I’d mention it.

narrow blade
I put a one inch wide by 6 in long piece of ethafoam on the push pull parts of the grip. This gives index and gives the paddle illusion of flex. Check oversize grips for senior golf. Paddle with knees really bent and use your legs. Narrow boats helps me becasue of less effect to move and more vertical.

Are you using a feathered paddle. One mistake I made when I started using a feathered paddle was to cock my wrist to set the proper angle for the non-control side. I immediatly started getting tendonitus in my right wrist every time I paddled. After realizing what I was doing and stopped cocking my wrist the pain went away. I also think that small diameter paddle shafts can cause wrist pain. Try wrapping the shaft on your control side to increase diameter and see if that helps. Also agree with the above post about gripping too tight and arm paddling. Good luck.

The balance between…
…technique and technology is important to consider, but I’d bet that for most people, poor technique carries more of the blame when there are problems. Looking for technological fixes for problems caused by technique makes little sense, and in the long run, will only cause more problems if the issue of technique remains unaddressed.

For the past few years, I’ve paddled a GP exclusively, but I switched from a “Euro” paddle not because of anything to do with discomfort or chronic injuries (I simply never had any such problems with the Euro paddle). I switched because I realized that for all sorts of other reasons, I simply preferred the GP and associated techniques.

Before I started using a GP, I used a fiberglass Werner San Juan, with an 80 degree feather (for that type of paddle, I wouldn’t want to use any less of a feather, as it would defeat the purpose of the feather in the first place). I never had any arm, wrist, hand, or finger problems in all the years I used this paddle.

As an instrumental musician, I’m very sensitive to how my extremities are feeling, so if there really were any problems with the paddle itself, I’d have dropped it like a hot potato without a second thought. But I didn’t, because, again, I never had any problems with it. I never felt the need to add any girth to the shaft; nor did I ever consider using a bent shaft paddle (I have my own reasons for really disliking them). So then, why did I never have any problems with the small diameter straight shaft paddle with an 80 degree feather? Easy…I used intuitive techniques that allowed me to relax and have good circulation at all times; even in the most severe conditions that one might assume would be most stressful.

With regards to specific control hand techique for feathered paddles, there’s really no need at all for “cocking” the wrist (you lose a lot of power that way as well). In the most basic terms, it should be the forearm that controls the major movement to align the non-control side blade for entry into the water; not the wrist. I learned this basic concept long before I started paddling; when I was learning to play the 'cello (another occupation that, with poor techniques, can cause the very same types of problems people experience with their paddle handling).

All that said, I don’t doubt that there are some people with specific physical limitations that can be helped by switching to a different type of paddle, etc., but for the most part, I’d say that much more is to be gained by paying attention to one’s techniques regardless of paddle type or configuration. Then, the choice of paddle is based on all sorts of other personal preferences; not just the avoidance of injury or the development of chronic pain.


What type of paddle are you using first

I use a Werner Ikelos bent shaft, 210 length. I use it at a 30 degree right feather.

I really try not too grip too tight, but it still does not help. It seems that the very act of holding onto the paddle while pulling it through the water (even with the loose grip) hurts my hand.

My point about having tendonitis problems in other parts was only to highlight the point that I am prone to it. I have had tendonitis problems in my elbows and wrists since before I started paddling so it is not related. The problem with my hand is new though.

thanks for the advice and I look forward to reading more.


hammer and nails
Hey Matt, To chose the hammer, you’ve got to ID the nail. It may be technique related, given that it is your control hand, but it may be something else. You may want to Google on hand pain and check to see whether the pain follows the ulnar or radial nerve distribution. Also take a look at carpal tunnel syndrome. Old injuries to the small bones in the wrist, particularly the navicular, can look like this. There are many possible causes. Probably the best thing is to see an orthopedist who does hands. With a proper diagnosis grounded in the functional anatomy of the wrist/hand, you’ll know what to do about it. Good luck, John

Double Paddle?
I presume you’re canoeing? I find I use my double 90-95% of the time. I haven’t paddled enough with a single to know if I’d develop aches therefrom, but I have almost no trouble with a double (I have thumb arthritis, by the way). Sometimes I “cup” my hands over the handle, not using my opposable thumb, just to minimize stress on the thumb. Only time I’ve had hand pain was on a 3-4 hour paddle wearing too-small gloves which cut circulation.

Hi Matt,

You wrote:

“It seems that the very act of holding onto the paddle while pulling it through the water (even with the loose grip) hurts my hand.”

This is just a guess, but when you say that you’re “pulling” the paddle through the water, could it be that you’re spending more energy “pulling” with the “water side” hand rather than pushing with the other? If this is the case, it certainly can explain why you’re feeling so much stress in your “pulling” hand and fingers.

The whole point of “torso rotation” we’ve been discussing is to allow the “dry side” hand the benefit of the combined larger muscle groups (from the legs all the way to the “pushing hand”), rather than to depend too much on the limited, smaller muscle groups that are employed when you think more in terms of “pulling” the paddle through the water.


Strengthen wrists and forearms

– Last Updated: Jan-01-06 5:47 PM EST –

Whatever else you do in terms of style and form, consider strengthening your wrists and forearms. That has helped me at different points with wrist/hand pain not unlike yours and more recently I completely cured chronic elbow tendonitis that wasn't responding to anything else -- and that was while paddling over the summer.

Start with 2-5 lb dumbells, and do forward and reverse wrist curls, sitting with your forearms on your knees. Work up in reps and weight, but emphasize reps over weight -- too big a weight too fast can injure the small bones and ligaments in the hand and wrist. I'm up to 17.5 lbs curl and 12.5 reverse curl, but that's after years, and with 50-70 reps (fewer if you do a slow release rather than just letting the weight fall quickly, as my expert lifting friends recommend).

I've recently added an exercise where I grab a 10 lb dumbell as close to one end as possible and rotate the other end in a rainbow shape, from left to top to right and back. I also do some forearm stretches aftwewards, as recommended a while back on another thread.

If you have any questions or worries, consult a good trainer. This is not a quick fix, but with winter near (in the good old northeast anyway), it may be a good time to do some work for next season.