Paddling Induced Tendonitis???

This is somewhat of a follow up to a post I made a few months back.

I have bad problems with chronic tendonitis and paddling just seems to make it worse.

I paddle a lot so it is not a matter of lack of conditioning, but the last three multi-day trips have resulted in very bad swelling and stiffness in my my wrists and forearms (can’t remember the name of the tendon but its about two to three fingers widths above your watch band on the inside of your wrist).

I have been going to physical therapy for this and other tenonitis issues and I thought that I was done with this issue until I went on another multi-day trip. Same thing happened but this time in the OTHER wrist. Was hard for me even to flex my wrist afterwards.

I also develop pain in my hands in between my finger bones which the therapist believes may be arthritis partially as a result of over-use.

I use a crank shaft paddle (which should help I would think) and a 30 degree feather.

I am not sure what precisely is the cause of my injuries or how best to address them.

Is my lightly feather 30 degree feather enough to cause a problem? I am not so sure this is the issue.

I do have a tendency to grip the paddle hard when paddling hard and fast…I know this may be a cause.

I have tried an unfeathered paddle but it really messes up my roll and I really don’t want to lose my reliable roll.

I guess the other option is to use a Greenland style paddle. I don’t know whether this will solve the problem or not. Many seem to say it may. I am not completely sold on GPs though and like my Euro.



I’ve gone back to no feather with the euro because I like to paddle with a GP and often switch back and forth. Unfeathered makes rolling and bracing easier for me because I always know where the brace is whether I have the euro or GP.

Anyway, my suggestion for your wrist is to try a straight shaft again. I’m not a fan of cranks. They lock you hands into more or less a set position and also allow you to grip tighter because of less strain on the wrist with the more neutral position of the hand. Try a straight shaft with a really light grip - open fingers so you don’t twist your wrist. Just a thought as I have not experienced what you have, but something must be irritating your wrist.


tendonitus as well
For a couple of years now - I have it in both elbows but it started from gardening and most everything keeps it going - therapy made it worse! stretching helps for the moment - so I am at a loss also as my wrists can sometimes feel swollen also and i just dont know what i am doing wrong as i do use torso rotation - i use arm braces when paddling which i feel helps a little for paddling time and a gp which i know helps as i tried a euro again once this year and my arms hurt worse than ever. Dont know how to get rid my problem so I take meds, brace up and suffer some but I cannot give up paddling. Since it didnt go away in the winter months, i dont believe resting helped me at all as how do you really rest your arms! I do think bracing/ and a greenland paddle can help reduce your pain. Cant help with getting rid of it though. Good luck and hope you have better luck than I have had.

Feathered Paddle Hurts My Wrist
Greenland paddles are relatively inexpensive. It wouldn’t be a huge gamble to try one. I don’t see me ever going back to Euro.

Good points
I too had thought about using the straigh shaft vs. the crank.

From speaking with my PT she says the inflamation I am having is from the tendon that flexes the wrist sideways (toward and away from the thumb and pinkee finger in the plane parallel to the palm). This is not the way way you flex your wrist when feathering.

I think that this may be a function of having a mis-aligned wrist during the catch phase which may be made worse by gripping the blade and torquing the wrist.

I am not sure if this misalignment may be more due to the feather or the crank.

Again, I really don’t want to go to zero feather b/c I am trained to set my wrists to allow a climbing angle on the blade with the feather that I currently use. Zero feather causes me a diving blade and really screws up my roll. I just can’t seem to adjust.

I do have a GP and use it a little but don’t care for it. I have not used it for long enough durations (ie a multi day trip) to tell if it will help or not.

elbow-wrist issues
One of the first things to consider if you have problems even when NOT paddling for weeks is this-Are you sleeping on your arms every night? Hubby folded his arm under his pillow for years on each side and couldn’t stop this habit which is what led to elbow surgery eventually. The tendon was under stress all night-every night for many hours. So some (but not all) “overuse syndrome” is set up by how you sleep at night. In order to avoid having the 2nd elbow fixed, along with the wrist which was killing him-he found a way to STOP sleeping on his bent arm and all is well except he snores too much when on his back!

As for crankshafts versus straight-hoo boy-everyone will have different opinions as to whether they help or hurt as will everyone on the feathered issue. For me, I found painful wrist problems in both hands until I got a telescoping Bending Branches paddles and backed the feather angle down to 35 from 60. I sold my crank on ebay since that seemed to bring on the wrist problems faster plus I think the bends were too wide for me.

It’s the BOAT Matt! Just kidding…

intersection syndrome
Sounds like you might have what’s called intersection syndrome, which is basically an overuse syndrome of muscles/tendons controlling the thumb. One thing for sure: you’ll need to learn to paddle with open hands (watch Nigel Foster) at a minimum. A cortisone shot can be helpful; surgery is a last resort. If you haven’t seen a hand surgeon, do. Having had wrist, hand and shoulder problems paddling, I went through straight Euro to crank Euro (AT) to a GP–first a superior, now a Lumpy. Once you get the GP dialed in, it’ll let you do anything you can do with a Euro but with much less strain on your body. As for rolling, you’ll pick it up quickly–best tool around for that aspect of paddling. May of us have GPs that are different for different conditions, long and narrow for touring, shorter and wider for surfing. My strong advice, Matt, given because I know how much you love kayaking, is to seek out someone like Ronnie at Sea Kayak Georgia and let him introduce to the GP. Or if you’d like to wander down to the Raleigh area, there are several of us that’d be glad to help you explore GP technique. Another idea would be to go to the Delmarva Greeland symposium. Can’t tell you the number of really good paddlers who would probably have quit were it not for switching to a GP–you might just be the next.

A few thoughts
I wonder if with a unfeathered paddle, you’re rolling with too much of a climbing angle, which is creating resistance on your blade and that resistance is forcing you into a dive with your paddle. Is that the case?

Have you tried increasing the shaft size of your paddle? Duct tape some foam on the shaft to see if that helps.

Switch to a straight shaft and see if that helps.

More ideas
No answers, but maybe some hints that may help pin down what works and doesn’t work.

Go to local bowling alley, buy a wrist brace with aluminum inserts- that ball is heavy and they have their own problems. Gaudy blue leatheretter or red. Strap on, give it several days of paddling despite some discomfort, and see if that hand/wrist is better than the other. It does help keep the wrist straight.

I use mine whenever canoeing, having worn it and homemade replacements out twice. In kayaking, it is not as critical, but still helps me some.

Secondly, in Nova Scotia, I saw a paddle which looked like an engineered truss. Lightweight, but the hand grip was straight vertical when the arms are held straight out ahead and thumbs up. He used the same upper body rotation, but stress on the wrists was changed.

First things first!
STOP bending your wrists when you paddle - at all -an ANY direction. If you don’t you guarantee stuff like this.

Some tips already given, and a couple more, are where you should start:

VERY loose grip (think finger hook vs squeezing on pull, and open hand push). Over-gripping is killer on the tendons as it makes them take a double hit. First the increased strain, and then the way a tight grip locks the hand perpendicular to the shaft and forces the wrist to bend as the shaft changes angles throughout the stroke.

Consider a straight shaft and be sure to FLARE outer fingers (with either type) to keep wrist neutral (straight) at all times. Let your fingers to the walking! If you don’t your wrist will be torqued sideways and likely in both directions as you paddle (Ulnar and Radial deviations = BAD!).

Lastly, use ELBOW lift to control feather - do NOT cock wrists! If you do, wrists will be bent up or down (Palmar flexion and Dorsiflexion = BAD!).

Feather isn’t the problem, your technique is. Even if you do go non-feathered you’ll just carry over these bad habits and will have same issues if you don’t correct this stuff.

One way to shortcut - and develop a feel for neutral wrist position and good habits - is to wear a wrist brace when paddling for a while. There should be nothing you can’t do with neutral/straight wrists - so lock them there until you learn to do it automatically. Odds are your crank will fight it a bit, or any paddle if you’re over-gripping (which should tell you something right there).


I too ripped my arm up
It took over a year to where now, I still do not work it very hard. During the past year I still paddled (wrong thing to do) but went to no feather, straight paddling to minimize any twist to my wrist or forearm and went to a narrower paddle to reduce torque on the arm. I modified an old 8" wide paddle blade by shaving it down to about 6" wide. It may not work for you but these things allowed me to continue to be on the water in a reduced capacity.

My bet is that Matt is beyond tweaking
his Euro stroke. The high angle, chicken wing, all the force early, plus the restrictions on turning/support strokes will make it very hard to rehab his various tendon ailments no matter what sort of fine tuning he does–his body and the Euro paddle just may not be a good fit if he expects to paddle at a high standard. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d bet he’d have a better chance of paddling at a high standard (BCU IV-V) with a GP that trying to force things with a Euro. For myself, getting to know Greenland technique was not only a good thing for the kind of paddling I like to do (which is a lot like Matt’s) but the technical aspects are a lot of fun. If he gave a GP a serious look, it wouldn’t feel like a fine tool not a toy.

All good points…
Greyak and Jsmarch are both right. My therapist said that the inflamation is of the tendon that controls the thumb, and she also said it controls the movement of the wrist from side to side as described in my post.

I think that my paddling technique problems are a combination of flexing my wrist (which may be a function of feather, cranks shaft, and/or gripping too hard), and gripping too hard.

The GP may help with all of these issues. I find gripping the loom of a GP to force a loose grip.

I guess I am just a Euro blade lover. I really like the precise turns you can achieve with a good bow ruder or side slip.

I am really thinking hard about “switching” over to the GP. I have been resistant to it but maybe I need to.

Perhaps I will stick with the Euro for surf and precise maneuvering. We’ll see.

Maybe trying a straight shaft may help also.


How MUCH are you paddling?
Did you do the multiday trips after a long absence from paddling?

Are you a weekend warrior?

You get my drift. Maybe you need to back off and build up gradually.

more thoughts

– Last Updated: Aug-24-08 11:06 PM EST –

Hi Matt,

I agree with some of the advice you've received so far, but not all.

I wouldn't rush into a GP just yet. Like me, you definitely like the Euro better. I built myself a GP and gave it an honest attempt, but didn't like the feel.

Many paddlers use a feathered paddle for many years because it's the "correct way to paddle." Then they switch to a GP and find it relieves their aches and pains. Remember that GP's are unfeathered and usually have a larger shaft (loom) diameter. I think these two differences are the keys. With GP's, you usually have a higher cadence with less resistance. Less resistance might be good, but a higher cadence for someone with an overuse problem is definitely not a good idea.

I also built my own euro paddle and I absolutely love it. I has a pretty large blade, no feather, and an egg-shaped, large diameter shaft. I don't really notice the shape and larger diameter of my shaft (relax you perverts!) until I try a different paddle with a standard sized shaft. The standard sized shafts feel skinny and more difficult to grab/control.

I strongly suggest two things: go to zero feather, and increase the diameter of the shaft. Bryan suggested duct tape/foam on your shaft to increase the diameter. Also keep a light/loose grip and alow the shaft to pivot in your grip instead of bending your wrist from side to side. As a physical therapist, I have to strongly advise against using elbow lift to control your feather (sorry Greyak). Lifting one elbow more than the other in order to account for an asymmetrical paddle (feathered) will only transfer the overuse to your shoulder. Don't worry about your rolling skills, after a small amount of re-training, I'm sure you'll be able to roll with a non feathered paddle.

Good luck,

Pedro Almeida

I used post hole diggers for years and have problems with my shoulders, elbows, and wrists and began to worry it would end my paddling. Not advocating a Greenland paddle, just what worked for me and may work with a Euro Blade too.

I found when making the switch to the GP, I loosened my grip considerably and believe this eliminated the aches… I realize now I had a death grip on the previous paddle with a skinnier shaft.

Hold on loosely, but don’t let go

Next you’ll be quoting …
… Antoine de Saint-Exupery! L

If here were doing the Euro stroke as you described (ala Reitz/Barton) I doubt he’d have these issues.

Why are folks on this site so resistant to simple technique tweaks, and instead keep looking for magic gear solutions?

GPs are great - but they’re no panacea (and can allow some really bad/sloppy technique precisely because they are so forgiving).

I haven’t regularly used a euro for years - but I had no issues with them before switching to GPs (and Aleuts, hybrids, whatevers) and yet I did have some tendinitis for a few months not long after switching. Took a while to after that to totally shake it. Loose grip and straight wrists won’t fix it right away, but will keep it gone once it is.

He likes euros for now, which is fine as they’re not the problem. Technique is. Give him some credit, anyone can make adjustments and refine their technique. Keeping wrists straight and hands loose/open are not hard adjustment to make. Beats the alternative.

Lift one elbow more than the other?
Before switching to GP (and others) I always paddled feathered (@60R)- and still paddle wing feathered (@75R) and I have no idea what you’re talking about. One elbow higher than the other? Never done it, never seen anyone do, and whatever it might be - it’s not what I was talking about.

Feather has always seemed to me to largely take care of itself, and stroke is very even on both sides. Maybe I was just lucky enough not to be taught stuff like having a “control hand”.

Again, I’ll just defer to Reitz/Barton on stroke - and a host of ergonomics and medical specialists on the importance of neutral wrists.

Greyak is definitely right on the neutral wrists. Part of the challenge that I am having is figuring out what is causing my wrists NOT to be neutral.

Whatever it is it is subtle, but enough to cause significant problems for me. It could be a function of the grip, the crank, or maybe the feather angle.

I would also agree with Greyak on the issue of feather somewhat taking care of itself. It is hard to determine without having someone else watch you but it seems to me that a slight feather angle is more neutral for me than zero degrees which seems to be a bit unnatural to me. Of course some of this may be a matter of adjustment.

As for working up to trips. This is not the problem. I paddle a lot, train hard, and am in good shape. I was paddling several days a week working up to this last trip which really did not even turn out to be as “multi-day” as planned.

My issues with tendonitis are not typical. I have some issues that are really making me more susceptible to these problems than your average person. I believe it may be at least partly a function of being incorrectly treated for a auto-immune problem with WAYYYY too much prednisone (steroid). I took it for about 18 months which is now known to be absolutely out of the realm of what is healthy. They didn’t know at that time. My guess is that it has weakened my connective tissue and is causing me to be more prone to tendon problems and joint problmes. This is also a symptom of my auto-immune disease (ulcerative colitis).

My physical therapist pretty much says she’s never seen anyone with so many simultaneous issues. She’s been treating me for tennis elbow, golfers elbow, the wrist problem, a partially torn bicep tendon which tendonitis, and multiple shoulder issues. Now I am having some arthritis issues as well.

I am not a hypocondriac (spelling) nor a wimp (Army Ranger) but my body is having some pretty persistent issues…and I am only 35 years old so I don’t think it is a function of old age.