Shoulder pain while kayaking

I’ve been experiencing shoulder pain/fatigue while kayaking that I need help figuringing out if it is due to technique or just my body adjusting to the sport.

This past Saturday I went out and paddled upstream. I understand this circumstance lends itself to more work but it seems every time I paddle I get pain.

Can someone whose experienced this help? I’m in good health and exercise and weight train regularly. If this is normal, please let me know.

Is the pain coming on while you are
paddling or later on in the day or the next day? Have you ever experienced pain in your shoulders in the past? Are you getting good upper body rotation when you paddle?

Your very last sentence:

– Last Updated: May-07-12 8:37 AM EST –

The answer is no it is not normal.

If you are a new paddler, you need a more experienced kayaker to critique your form.

Could you be going too far too soon ? Are you relaxed?
Are you trying too hard? Are you reaching out too far in front of you? It could be any number of things you are doing wrong.

jack L

aches and pains can be good teachers
I have improved my technique many times, especially when I was first getting started, based upon pain developing somewhere. Isolate and eliminate the source of the pain before it becomes a problematic injury, and you may come out ahead.

I’ve developed a little shoulder pain a few times over the years. I’ve just made an effort to demobilize my shoulders in those instances. If you roll one shoulder forward, while rolling the other back, without moving your back, you will get what a lot of people substitute for torso rotation. If you force yourself to stop rolling your shoulders, you are forced to compensate by rotating your torso. Rotating down through your lower torso will feel better and be stronger than just upper torso rotation. It takes a good amount of comfort in the cockpit to allow your lower body to relax and move more freely, but a need to not roll your shoulders could help you get comfortable with it fairly quickly.

Just an example of something that worked for me with a shoulder getting sore, that also led to much improved paddling technique in the process.

High or low angle?
Some high angle paddlers with a tight grip who paddle with bent arms and lift their elbow higher than their shoulder end up with shoulder pain especially if the paddle shaft is long and/or blades are big. Check your grip width and try paddling with a loose grip on the upper hand without lifting your elbow higher than shoulder level. The upper blade can still go high (hand on eye to forehead level) but your elbow should drop closer to your torso and not rise above your shoulders during a normal paddle stroke. Try a different paddle if your paddle feels too long and do not attempt to compensate by lifting the paddle higher.

not normal
Any acute and lasting pain is a sign of either bad things happening or having happened. Other indications - reduced range of motion, things catching, things going numb, things wanting to pop out.

Shoulders are really complex systems, it is worth seeing an orthopedic specialist, or a PT specializing in shoulders.

It is possible that paddling brought this on - arm paddlers are notorious for their complaints about shoulders, wrists, elbows. Investing some time and money into a forward stroke class/clinic might be a good idea.

I use a greenland paddle due to shoulder
Problems. It can greatly reduce the stress on the shoulder, elbows and hands. Even with this paddle I still had to ice my shoulder after each outing. I have also had very good success with massage. The older I get, massage becomes a bigger part of staying pain free.

Do you have shoulder pain with weight lifting? If yes, which specific exercises? How long have you been lifting weights? What intensity?

Overtraining with heavy weights can erode joints over a number of years. Sometimes you don’t realize it until there is a specific stressor that causes pain, and then arthritis may be found to be an underlying cause—but there are other causes, like a rotator cuff injury etc etc.

I’m wondering if kayaking is bringing out an underlying injury or condition that was there before.

Solutions, in addition to medical attention (which it really seems you need):

–Shorter, less-frequent kayak trips

–Rest every one to two hours

–Paddle in calm conditions, as opposed to against wind and waves

–Get the lightest kayak and paddle you can afford

–Get a paddle with small blades. For example, the Werner Athena is specifically designed for joint problems. The principle is that it just doesn’t move a lot of water.

–Take ibuprofen before and after kayaking

–Tether your paddle to the front of the coaming with some sort of nonstretching strap or cord. Use the tether as a fulcrum. It will take about half the force off your shoulder joints because you are pulling against the tether rather than against the opposite shoulder. It’s awkward but you can used to it.

I damaged my left shoulder years ago
and now it comes back to haunt me with pain and fatigue after paddling. In my case, it is the biceps tendon. It responds to ice and massage.

Should not hurt
I’m going to be a bit more blunt, but forgive me when I say you need to improve your technique. The only reason the shoulder should hurt is if the injury is fresh or you are pulling the paddle using the shoulder muscles.

A good stroke should produce little to no strain on the shoulder (ie. the paddle should move with torso rotation and the amount of push/pull with the upper body is virtually non-existent). The shoulder muscles are used only to support the paddle in the air. Let the stomach, back, and supporting torso muscles do as much of the work as possible.


Paddle blade
I’ll echo the above advice to get a smaller bladed paddle. If you were lifting a certain weight in the gym and had joint pain you would rightfully and automatically reduce the weight. That is exactly what you do by going to a paddle with a smaller blade area. Good luck.

What does “normal” mean?
Even with perfect form most of the body muscles are involved in paddling to some extent. If an individual is new to paddling and not physically fit - or even if fit but using muscles in new ways - some degree of soreness will occur. This is normal. With time in the saddle the muscles will become fit and soreness will disappear. But, for guys like me - meaning middle aged and over and NOT FIT - weekend warrier activities of all types, including kayaking with good form - will cause soreness and even some pain if you have old injuries and arthritis etc. This is normal - IMHO. I do agree 100% that proper form will reduce soreness and pain from kayaking.

might be lifting kayak overhead
Some excellent advice from posters. I’d add that I’ve seen many a rotator cuff damaged by overhead lifting of either heavy or awkward (kayaks) objects. I know I damaged my shoulder and neck after horsing long kayaks up on the roof rack. So if your paddle stroke is indeed sound and compact get a lighter boat or a Thule Hullavator.

No it’s not normal
You leave out a ton of information, like your age, how hard you’re paddling, your experience. on and on.

Everyone’s advice if good. I would suggest to start out paddling quite easy for quite a while and give the joints and good chance to warm up and get lubricated. Many times people develop pains by pushing out too hard in the beginning without warming up. If you’re 16 fine, but as we age we need longer and longer to warm up.

It’s all connected
All those muscles and joints are interconnected: neck, shoulder, back, sides, etc.

An old injury leaves traces (weakness, structural anomolies) that resurface years later when you ask the body to do something new or in a sustained way. Excellent form can certainly help, but it can’t cure or completely make up for those underlying problems.

You as a healthy person might not be aware of the connection from the lats to the upper back to the shoulder, but a person with an old injury or problem in the shoulder or neck is going to eventually feel pain even with good torso rotation etc. You can’t rotate your torso 2000 times an hour for 5 hours without impacting the shoulders and neck.

Whatever else you do, do not keep
reinjuring it. Even if you have to stop paddling for a while, it’s not worth doing permenant damage.