paddling after rotator cuff injury

I can look at it at the put-in, bruce.
Remind me.

feeling much better
Thanks again, everyone, for the info and encouragement. I’m feeling much better just knowing that there IS paddling life after this kind of injury. I don’t know if my shoulder’s actually any better than it was a few days ago, but my attitude sure is. I was deeply into “woe is me” territory, and now I’m back in “look out, bay, here I come” land.

I especially appreciate the ice, ice, baby advice and the advice to really research docs before I let someone cut. I live near Philly, home to some of the best medical centers in the world, so surely I’ll be able to find the right ortho doc if I ever decide to go the surgery route. Meanwhile, time to do my shoulder exercises!

Thanks again and happy paddling!


I had surgery on my rotator cuff
March 4, 2005. I did the pt religiously and paddled a short trip in protected water in May then paddled 21 miles down the Edisto in June. After the June trip my shoulder was a little sore for a day or two in spite of the fact we were paddling down stream. Just take it easy and listen to your shoulder, it will tell you if you are overdoing it. I did note that there seems to be a big difference in recovery rates of rotator cuff surgery between different people. I guess all rotator cuff surgery is not the same, some is simply more involved requiring more recovery time. BTW, I can still feel the effects (mild discomfort) of the surgery over a year later.

Shoulder surgery
Hi Eliz,

I’m not pushing surgery- I tried other approaches for eight months, as noted in my post above. If you ultimately find you need surgery, you should be able to find a excellent orthopedist who specializes in shoulders in a large city like Philly. I asked friends and just got a list of the common names of the orthopedic surgeons considered good in the New Haven area- not helpful. No help from hospital referral services as they can only say the next name on the list.

I then got focused and asked a friend who is a PT and the administrator of a clinic with 25 PTs. She asked the PTs, (who see the results of the work of many surgeons) and they had a censuses of one surgeon being the best. I then asked another friend who is the office administrator for a group of cardiac surgeons. She went to each and asked “if you tore up the shoulder on your operating arm skiing, who would you have repair it?” All six named the same MD as the PTs did- I had my surgeon.

With surgery or not, there are steps you can take to reduce stress on your shoulder while paddling. Change to a small blade area paddle. get a paddle with slight flex. Use a low stroke. Consider a Aleut or Greenland paddle. When inflammation is gone, do shoulder strengthening exercises with elastic bands or low weights (don’t use heavy weights as the muscles in the shoulder are quite small and heavy weight can cause injury) Go for shorter paddles for awhile.

This too will pass, you will be able to paddle again!

Acute rotator cuff tear
It was not cute at all, it was a complete tear done on a whitewater run in NOV. '04. I had to have open surgery JAN. '05 to rivet that sucker back together. I was paddling within 12 weeks but still a little sore (after 16 weeks, the Dr. told me I could paddle again, I said “OK doc., I can hardly wait!” I think I was 100% after about 6mos. The doc. also made some modifications to the bone so I wouldn’t have future problems–he opened up the space where the RC muscle moves.

It’s been over a year since surgery and the shoulder is better than new. I was 38 and active at the time of injury. My relative youth, and overwhelming desire to paddle again greatly helped my recovery.

Thanks Gremmie and Cooldoctor

– Last Updated: May-09-06 6:05 PM EST –

The funny thing is that I just paddled six miles at a decent clip without even a trace of discomfort. Cooldoctor- Although I am very grateful, I have no intention of letting you talk shop at next week's paddle. The whole purpose is to escape from the daily grind. Just bury me near the water.

rotator cuff surgery
In that everyone’s shoulder joint is slightly different, their injury is probably somewhat different, and their ages and health situations differ, surgery results will also vary. (The skill and experience of the surgeon is the one factor that you can control)

I had a long conversation with a world known expert on knee surgery as he was getting ready to do ACL replacement on my son. He said with his best results, he doesn’t get 100%- comes close, but not 100%. The shoulder is a weaker and less stable joint than knees, so after successful surgery you will not be 100%. Maybe close, but not 100%. At age 59, I would put my shoulder recovery at about 95% of the other- I consider that a great success.

The shoulder has a shallow space where the components of the rotator cuff pass through. Any injury to any part caused swelling, which closes up the space, leading to an “impingement syndrome” All this means is something is injured or irritated in there. Doesn’t say what. Part of most surgeries, beyond repairing other damage, is to make a little more space in the shoulder joint by shaving the bone at the top of the joint.

Try conservative approaches first, follow PT routine after surgery if you have to have it, and listen to your shoulder joint after you recover- back off if you feel discomfort.

@ age 40
I have had a FULL recovery of my RC post surgery. I actually favor the (previously) injured shoulder over the other one when using the rotator cuff muscles for extending or overhead activity.

I stand by my 100% claim.

rotator cuff
I noticed the wrong date, I had surgery April 12th and as I said it was an old injury on top of the current tear. I have to agree with those who say pick a surgeon very acarefully. Mine is a shoulder specialist and even though there was a lot of damage and I’m also 59, he said I should be almost 100%. The only thing is it will take time due to the extent of the damage and repair, but he believes paddling is a great sport and one that will benifit from the surgery. I’m looking forward to getting back on the water.

Just be careful if you don’t elect surgery and realize that if you are not careful and abuse the shoulder it will just agravate the situation. If PT is recommended I’d follow up on that course of action and do all the excercises.

good luck


Re:Lots of experience
I also went thru the torn tendons diagnosis and the concensus that:At 62 (then) and with the amount of ‘garbage’ the mri showed, surgery was iffy at best.

I took a year off from paddling. Pretty much stayed off the water all last year.

I also refitted both the plastic america and the handbuilt tern with hip brace minicel foam (and the tern with thigh braces).

The fact I was doing ‘pulling strokes’ paddling definitely hadn’t been helping the shoulder and I have to totally agree that using the body and incorporating as much ‘making the boat fit’ as possible goes a long way to making any paddle easier on the arms and shoulders.

I was pleasantly supprised at my (calm water)first paddle of the season friday. Out with the tern for almost 3 hours and no ill effects (but I wasn’t pushing it either)

The time off helped me a ton. Hopefully, it’ll do the same for you.

Not While Paddling?
Common response that your shoulder would not hurt while paddling. But, while the problem may not have originated with paddling, paddling could be adding to the problem. These things tend to switch from the symptoms you describe to being in a world of hurt so better to get on a path of rehab early. Read through the archives in pnet and you will find shoulder problems to be very common among paddlers. Not just a coincidence.

rotator cuff/kayaking
I was diagnosed with long-term rotator cuff injuries about 5 years ago. I entered into an aggressive physical therapy program, which I have followed rigorously ever since–about four 20-minute sessions per week. I fitness paddle about 4-5 times per week and have had success racing at distances up to 15 miles. I’m 60 years old. I think the key is commitment to rehabilitation, unless you find that the exercises aggravate the problem.

it took a couple of years
then someone suggested that I tie my arm to a giant round pillow before going to sleep so it would be raised and supported through the night.

One day it just stopped hurting.

The shoulder would hurt the most when I was sitting in a chair with no arms, such as church. All of a sudden the pain would attack.

I had injured it playing basketball in a pool.

You might find a way to support your shoulder and paddle, experiement a little. Swim noodles can be cut up and used for various creative solutions. I plan to cut one up very soon for use as a potential back support.

i injured my rotatator cuff last year

– Last Updated: May-10-06 5:33 PM EST –

(not paddling), and have been enjoying my time on the water paddling this year, without many restrictions. just make sure you have a good forward stroke and are using your core muscles. i can paddle for miles a reasonable clip without any discomfort.

roll practice and playing/bracing in the surf zone are not yet something i am able to do, due to some residual neck problems, and fear of re-injury in the surfzone, as i am not so skilled there:)

like others here have mentioned, i spent some time with a good pt as well, and have been committed to continuing with thoses execrises, and strength training, in order to stay out of trouble and on the water!!!


I had surgery back in Nov '05
They repaired a torn bicep tendon and some other fun stuff. I am a new kayaker but was going crazy sitting around. I was doing aggressive pt and walking 5-10 miles a day. I am a UPS driver and was injured by my non-power steering truck. Anyway, my arm felt like it could handle it and I went out on a small lake in March for about 30 minutes. I found that my shoulder felt looser and more mobile. I talked with my doc about this and he thought it was great. So I am paddling again, back at work again (much harder on my shoulder than paddling) and looking forward to more adventures.

PT is important! The ‘mistress of pain’ (as I affectionately called my therapist) was great. She pushed me, tailored the exercises to help me get back to work, and was supportive all the way through. I heard this from many people who had gone through the same thing - the pt is crucial if you want to make a comeback.

Saw ortho doc yesterday for, oh, maybe 4.5 minutes. He says I’m doing “great.” “Right on schedule.” (I’m starting to really hate workers’ comp docs.) Going to upgrade my PT to work hardening. Wants to know how much I need to lift in my job. I’m a music teacher and initially hurt myself lifting a case full of handbells; no clue how much it weighs. For some reason, I tell him 50 pounds, then I realize that’s about how much a kayak weighs. OK, so lifting a kayak isn’t exactly my job, but it sounded like a good number.

Feeling really strong with all of the stuff I’m doing in PT. Increased weights on every exercise this week. Still hoping to try a little paddling this weekend, but the weather may prevent that.

I’m still pretty convinced that everyone’s helpful feedback did as much for my outlook as the PT has been doing for my muscles. Thanks again, everybody!!