Paddle type for tendinitis

-- Last Updated: Apr-02-12 5:36 PM EST --

I've recently taken up paddling - kayaks and canoes. I love it but my tendinitis keeps flaring up. I am very small with tiny hands, so not sure if that's the reason - I've only rented stuff before. Not ready to buy boats yet but thinking if I bought my own paddle, I might be able to get one that fit me better. Any suggestions?

I've seen some people suggest greenlander paddles but these faces are so tiny - are they slower? Do they brace well?

The reason…

– Last Updated: Apr-02-12 5:51 PM EST –

for tendinitis could be you are using too large a paddle to begin with ;)

Secondly, the GP area is not that small, since almost all of the blade goes into water and used properly the power transfer is very efficient - a common mistake is to be "late" with blade insertion, resulting in an underpowered stroke using only half of the blade.

Thirdly, the GP is "the" paddle for bracing and rolling. Lots of people find it much easier to roll with it. Me included, although I'm pretty bad at it, but GP is helping a lot with the learning curve.

Of course, GP does not work well (or at all) on whitewater and you will have some difficulties with it in a really wide boat, as this might mean you'll need an extra long paddle and it will not handle well.

The GP is used with slightly higher cadence than "ordinary" paddle - 1.5-2 strokes to 1 stroke, approximately. Resistance in the water is lower, so you can easily sustain the pace for hours, if needed. The one area GP lack is the initial acceleration - less "bite" translates to less feet per second per second from standstill. A minor issue, unless you are supposed to engage in very aggressive maneuvering.

To add, I suffer from a mysterious unspecified joint/muscle inflammation that flares up on occasions and GP has been a real life-saver, as it puts much less strain on my shoulders than Euro-style paddles.

It’s not your paddle

– Last Updated: Apr-02-12 8:00 PM EST –

It's your technique. The first time I paddled in the 90-Miler many years ago, I developed painful tendonitis after the first few hours. I've known several other paddlers who have had the same problem. I discovered that I was bending my wrist during the power stroke as the cause, which stems from overall poor technique. Then I learned to keep my wrist joint straight and rigid without flexing on power strokes. The only way you can effectively do that is with proper torso and shoulder rotation, which also taps the power into your strong back muscles instead of your tiring arms. Since then I have paddled years of marathon races without any injury or tiring of arms or wrists, including 18 continuous hours per day for an entire week during the Yukon 1000 mile races.

Watch your wrist with and without torso rotation and you will see what I mean. The other thing is that the angle your elbows make should not change very much at all during a stroke. If you are straightening and bending elbows more than just a little during a stroke, then you may be not rotating torso and shoulders enough.

Greenland Is Good
The shape of the blade - long and narrow - eases the initial ‘bite’ when the paddle starts to move water, which reduces strain on the joints. They are also very light, which helps. I’ve been using GPs for about 5 years now, and won’t ever use anything else.

One other thing - if you’re fairly new to the sport, check your technique. If you are ‘pulling’ the blade thru water water using the hand that’s closest to the water, it’s gonna hurt - the forearm muscles and biceps are relatively small in size, and you are forcing the elbow to take more and more strain as the angle of bend increases. I was taught (after doing it wrong for a while) to instead ‘push’ with the hand that’s high in the air; this brings the big muscles in the shoulders and back into play. It avoids placing strain on the lower elbow, since the upper elbow is straightened rather than bent as the stroke proceeds. Finally, adding some torso rotation adds still more power, again without increasing joint stress.

If there’s a kayak club near you, most members will gladly show you the basics of a good stroke - if not, a few lessons can be well worth the cost.

rental gear and GP’s
Rental gear tends to run the gamut from decent to dreadful, but I have seem more of the latter. A lot of places only keep heavy and stiff aluminum paddles, most too short for many people. Others will have decent lighter weight fiberglass shaft ones but tend to have them all around 240 cm, too long for smaller folks.

I’m also a fan of GP’s, even more so since I had serious wrist surgery due to a broken distal radius 4 years ago today. I don’t use a regular blade paddle for anything but whitewater any more. As others have said, GP’s are fine for distance paddling, bracing, sculling and rolling. And you can have one custom made for your smaller grip.

The difficulty for many people is getting to try one out since they are rarely available in shops and I have never seen them for rent. If there are any Spring paddling outings or “regattas” in your area where a lot of kayakers gather those can be a good place to get to try a GP. I always end up lending mine to the curious for test runs whenever I go to our local paddlers’ events.

If using a GP isn’t an option for you at this point you might look for some paddling instruction to improve your technique. Also, don’t feather your paddles when you rent them – feathering is really only a strategy for dealing with wind catching the blade. It’s easier on your wrist to paddle with the blades in line. And GP’s are not feathered – they need not be because they don’t have that big windcatching blade area.

Agree - It’s not your paddle
Any time your wrist bends during the stroke, you’re doing something wrong, no matter the feather or shaft bend or anything else. A loose grip goes a long way.

Stand with your back against something, and rotate one shoulder forward in its joint while rotating the other back, without allowing your back to rotate at all. Between a little arm movement and rolling your shoulders in their joints, you can get a pretty complete stroke. You shouldn’t be rolling your shoulders like this either. It’s a nice source of shoulder injury. Cross your arms in front of you, locking your shoulders and arms in place. Now rotate right through your hips, getting a full stroke without arms or shoulders. Now you’re starting to engage the muscles for a powerful stroke. If you do this sitting down in a chair, you’ll quickly see how your legs get involved as well. The point of this for your wrist is that if you’re sitting straight forward with the paddle straight across in front of you in your hands with straight wrists, and you push one arm forward, the other back, to change the paddle angle and peform a forward stroke, you have to let the paddle angle change in your loose gripping hand, or you have to bend your wrist. If you change the angle of the paddle just the same using your torso only, your wrists are still straight and you engaged more powerful muscles.

But you can still use arms and shoulder rolling without bending your wrists, so you don’t have to perfect anything. You just have to never, never let your wrists bend.

When you think about the Greenland paddle, and how it’s often described as providing the most power mid-stroke vs at the plant (especially with poor plant), it’s easy to see how you can get away with more without injury. Folks using wings are usually more obligated to better mechanics, and are a good example of how you can have that powerful catch without injury with proper technique. While you may not wish to race, good racers have figured out how to use paddles with a powerful catch, while engaging muscles that give the most power applied of any paddlers, all without injury.

Any equipment recommendation that works will only work because it helps you personally to not bend your wrists. Conversely, you can use any paddle without bending your wrists. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, you can’t get away with being very sloppy with your wrists.

What to look for
Weight is important. Unfortunately less weight = more money. Small blade area is important. Less force per stroke and a faster stroke rate will work for you. Shaft width is important. A shaft that is too big for your hand will quickly tire you out and aggravate physical problems. Some manufacturers of Euro paddles offer a smaller shaft (e.g., Werner) and you can get it from custom makers (e.g. Onno). Paddle design can also make a difference. A Greenland paddle is not a bad choice if you get one made to your specifications. Also consider a wing paddle, which is very easy on your wrists and hands if you are not racing. I am in my 70’s and have a number of paddles. I also have problems with my wrists and hands. I use my Onno wing almost exclusively. For a change I use one of my Greenland paddles but usually go back to the wing.

Thanks - this is really helpful!

All great stuff for me to work on before I spend a bunch of money on a fancy paddle!

Very very helpful advice!

Tendinitis where?
Maybe it doesn’t matter, just curious. Hands, elbows, shoulders, toes?

I tend to disagree on the paddle is not
the problem. I started with one with huge blades that really caused some problems. Got advice here and got narrower blades and the problem was gone.

problem area

What do you disagree with?
I thought that I was saying that the paddle was an important part of the program.

I recall the elbows being upstream of
the wrists. You’re getting a lot of idealistic wrist advice on here, and it turns out the problem is in your elbows.

I’d suggest proper sizing of your entire setup, boat, paddle blade, paddle shaft, and even your seating position, regarding hip and knee support. Along with that, check your form. You don’t need zero wrist bend and exaggerated torso rotation, just low wrist bend and good rotation. You shouldn’t be bending your upper arm a lot and then “punching” the catch. Don’t pull the blade past your hip, because that may add wrist strain. Most of the work is done in front of you, whether canoeing or kayaking.

If you’re taking NSAIDs (aspirin, Motrin, Aleve) for your tendinitis, go easy. All NSAIDs interfere with the inflammation --> healing process. Take NSAIDs if you need them to function, but back off if you’re not hurting. Ibuprofen is not a vitamin.

Get help on stroke first
Most people starting out are paddling with poor form. While you are getting help with that, make sure you are using a paddle with a relatively small blade face. Speed is cadence, not huge paddle blades. Too big a blade can be hard to get thru the water at a good cadence,

GP has helped many, but it can be more difficult to get fitted well for one if you have smaller hands. Certainly can be done, but you’ll have to go a bit custom (I have small hands and it took a couple of tries to get it right).

the paddle CAN be the problem
Of course form can be the cause. But once you’ve got the proper form down, blades that are too large or a shaft that is too large for your grip can also overload the muscles and tendons.

Werner and a few others offer a choice of shaft diameters, try them out and see which feels best. Also something to consider if you’re thinking about a GP.

yes and no
The OP is renting. Probability of a company purchasing a decent paddle for rental setup is not that high.

SO, that paddle is likely to be sized for an average person, not a female running towards small. The shaft is likely to be regular. The paddle is likely on the heavy side - they do last longer for rentals.

All of the above can, probably, lead to some problems, but I would suspect wrists and shoulders to be first to go with a crappy paddle.

Then it is time to consider stroke mechanics. The OP is a beginner. While it is possible that she is one of those naturals that developed a perfect stroke, probability is not that high. A stroke class might be worth the time. Or a paddling class.

The warm water is nearly upon us. Considering that OP is from the Northern Illinois, there might be some not too expensive ways to get instruction.

I know that Geneva Kayak out of Chicago have very good instructors. Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin is of a rather small build, might be best suited to address the paddle fit issues.

Also, the Door County Sea Kayak symposium is beginning paddler friendly, they also have a wide selection of instructors.

End of May typically brings WMCKA ( West Michigan Coastal Kayak Association ) symposium at Camp Pendalouan, another beginner friendly gathering. I believe it is even possible to arrange for top notch gear rental. Some of the instructors specialize in Greenland style kayaking as well.

Didn’t catch the rental part

– Last Updated: Apr-03-12 12:40 PM EST –

Agree with above - rental equipment is hard on smaller people and small hands. Heavy, big around and probably not so good in terms of giving a nice catch.

Go to the symposiums and gatherings mentioned above, there are good options out there but they won't be in typical rental fleets. For that matter, the boat is probably too big and deep as well.

Lots of advice - hmmmm

– Last Updated: Apr-03-12 1:16 PM EST –

The problem is that your tendonitis is specific to your own joints/muscle/tendons. A big heavy paddle that is too big for your hands obviously is not helping. Most people find that going from a feathered to an unfeathered paddle also relieves tendonitis (This is heresy among hard core paddlers, but I would suggest trying unfeathered and see if it helps.) Greenland paddles are cool, but not necessary. When I started kayak surfing I had problems with tendonitis and ended up I was gripping the paddle way too tightly - relaxing the hand at the end of the stroke and keeping a firm but not over tight grip helped. Also I bought a custom Onno paddle. These are high quality and less expensive than some of the big name brands. Send Pat at Onno a note and see how much it would cost to make a light paddle for small hands.

Finally I used an elbow band that you can buy at a drug store to put a little pressure on the tendon and it relieved pain and helped from hurting the tendon while paddling. Once I switched to a light, no feather paddle. I never had issues again. But your bones and tendons are different, you will need to experiment a bit.