Deltoid pain in tailwind


I’ve been paddling for 5-6 months now and I notice that my upper arm gets tired, tight, and burns after around 20-30 minutes of paddling. Doesn’t necessarily stop me from paddling but it is annoying. I’ve read a lot about shoulder injuries here and at other sites and what seems to be different for me is I have pain almost exclusively when I’m paddling at an easy pace or in a tailwind. When I’m paddling hard or against wind/waves (nothing drastic) I’m a lot more comfortable. I like the feeling of having something to “grab onto” and pull against and use my full body to generate power. When Im in a tailwind or paddling easily feel like I’m spinning my wheels and the recovery is the most painful part. It’s my left upper arm that bothers me and it bothers me the most when my left blade isn’t in the water. If I pick up the pace or turn into weather I feel much more relaxed and at ease and feel way more connected to everything.

I’m planning on taking lessons in a month or two depending on when stuff becomes available (I’m in new england) and I’ve already booked massage. I have injured this shoulder in the past and I’ve been known to get pretty bad knots there in the past but I find it weird that I don’t have trouble when I’m applying power.

Does anyone else have experience with this issue?

Are there any classic techniques or gear issues that are known to cause this? I’m 6’ 1", 26 years old, athletic background, long arms for my size, paddling a 18’ ocean kayak, 22.5" wide, 60 lbs. My paddle is admittedly pretty crappy off amazon. 2.5 lbs, square blades, 215 cm long. I’ve subscribed so far to the philosophy of the paddler matters more than the gear and am hesitant to buy a new paddle until I get looked at by an instructor.

Am I right to hold off on buying a new paddle?

Thanks for any advice!

You should not be pulling against anything. You should be pushing the water , driving the boat forward.
The force should be generated by your abs , chest, and legs ,not your arms.
Your lower arm is used to extend and plant the paddle and your upper arm to push.
Hopefully, someone will post a video.
I started paddling doing what you are with the same pain. A few minutes watching and a lot of practice and I’ve not had arm pain again.

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Google the technique videos by Ivan Lawler, there’s a wealth of information there. I like his older video at Ivan Lawler Kayak (Canoeing) Racing Technique Masterclass. Held At Richmond Canoe Club. - YouTube

Impossible to know what you are doing without seeing your technique. I suspect you are arm paddling even though you say you are using your whole body. The deltoid is often activated when you lift / release the paddle from the water. Make sure you are not lifting a lot of water. An efficient exit occurs when the paddle blade slices out without much effort when the blade reaches your HIP, with the blade starting close to the hull and flaring out at your hip (like a “J” shape). This stroke shape happens if you plant the blade and rotate your core, as opposed to directing the stroke with your arms.

A common error it to keep the paddle in the water too long and exit well behind your hip.

But this is all conjecture, see a good coach and you might save years of trial and error, not to mention injuries.

String, I have to disagree on “pushing”. I feel about 60% pull and 40% push. My upper arm does not really push forward but simply “resists”, staying fairly stationary and not dropping.

Greg Stamer


I was hoping that Greg Stamer would answer.

Something to look at when you are paddling is your hand. Is you left hand above, below, or even with your eye? Are your fingers clenched or loose? Is there a difference from your right hand when the left blade is active?

You might be interested in Nigel Foster’s DVDs: nigelkayaks with nigel foster

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I knew someone very knowledgeable would answer. Thanks Greg.

There’s some good videos posted in the learning section of Pcom. Here’s one by Nigel Foster on the forward stroke.

I have to disagree with your philosophy about the paddle. Get the lightest one you can afford. The average paddler takes about a thousand strokes per mile.

If you’re worried about springing for an expensive paddle and then discovering it’s not exactly what you want, just buy used. You will likely then be able to re-sell without much of a loss. Just get anything around what you think you need and plan to re-sell when you’ve refined your wants. In my area right now someone’s got a Werner carbon Cyprus for sale for $250, and I’ve seen Shuna’s for $125.

I agree with getting a lighter/better paddle. Given how the deltoid is used when paddling, and cumulative impact that can have over time, getting a lighter paddle may help a lot. Since each lift and movement is relatively small, and easy to manage, the cumulative impact of lifting a “heavy” paddle tends to sneak up on you over time.

Another thing to consider is perceived effort. I always find that when going downwind, I always feel like I am barely doing anything, so I find myself tending to put more effort into my strokes, just to “feel” like I am doing something.

Going upwind, or against the current, I tend to feel the effort, it feels more satisfying, and I find that I am satisfied with smoother and less powerful stokes. I can easily feel the glide against the current/wind.

This feeling of perceived effort (or lack thereof) sneaks up on me, and I find I have to resist working harder downwind and/or with the current, or I find myself pushing harder without realizing it. Something to think about, might partly explain your observations…

almost virgin. get a greenland stick study the techniques and never look back
Peace J

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Thanks for the advice and videos! They look really good and should hopefully carry me through the next few weeks till I can get in front of an instructor.