Shoulder problem

I hurt my left shoulder kayaking about 4 months ago. I was experiencing slight pain when extending my left arm to the side. For close to three months I didn’t pay much attention to the problem because I was busy organizing my moving to Canada, and it didn’t really interfeer with regular everyday life. Finally I saw a doctor that gave me an anti-inflamatory med that caused some relief after about a week taking it. However, it quickly came back when I started using my shoulder normally. Heat patches and cold mint patches have also helped, but that slight pain doesn’t seem to go away completely. Last sat i wasn’t feeling any pain and tried doing the paddling motion, and right away I felt it again. Very slight pain, more like a reminder that it hasn’t completely healed. Although I’d say that it may be 80% gone, I think that if I paddle or climb it’ll go back to where it was.

I’m considering getting a cortisone shot. Has anyone have a similar experience, of low pain, but also long lasting? How did you fix it?



Lethbridge, Alberta

Rest it!
It takes a long time. This sounds similar to what I had several years ago. All I did was rest the shoulder and took 600 mgs of ibuprofen a day. Did that for about 3 months. Paddled occasionaly, but not hard paddling.

Shoulder is fine now and hope to keep that way by doing some light weights with lots of repitition and never lift above my shoulders.

Never had cortisone and hope I never have to.


Single arm press

Twenty-six years of marathon kayak racing/paddling (58 years old)with no shoulder problems. (Did a 35 mile race on Sat). However, I swam fly in H.S & college with tons of shots! Before trying much of anything get cleared by a pro. When you do, have a well seasoned paddler check your form, paddle length & etc.

I have used a one arm press with a barbell for years. The long bar strenghthens rot. cuff & stabilizer muscles(your lat stabilizes the shoulder). You might want to learn the lift outside with a light bar & then progress to the 45 pounder. The learning curve is pretty quick and you may soon be adding plates to the bar. Use a weight you can do 5 or 6 times for one or two sets, a couple of times per week. Guys that caught me pressing the long bar often asked if I was doing rehab. I said “this is why I’m not.” Avoid upright rows & pullovers on a bench. Good luck!

In April of 2008…
…I tore my right rotator cuff putting in a dock; I forgot to NOT lift overhead anything heavy that I couldn’t control well. I had previously torn the left moving shelving a couple years back, so I was pretty sure what I had done. I was told by a surgeon that I have “Type 2” shoulders, which are vulnerable to rotator cuff tears from a part of the sholder blade (scapula?) extending over the rotator cuff and damaging it when the arm is lifted overhead. A type 2 usually has problems in mid-life;the 1’s and 3’s either never have problems late in life or not at all, and the other has problems when younger than myself. I don’t remember the sequence.

I couldn’t afford my deductable for surgury on the recent right side tear (after just having bought 2 boats), and the pain didn’t keep me up at night (which is what prompted me to finally “go under the knife” for the left), so I just kept up light weight training and paddling, backing off on weight a little. Hurt quite a bit throwing up that chicken wing during the early summer, but I kept it up and it healed itself! And the cost of my two boats was about what the deductable would have been! The only down side is that, given the shoulder type I have, I will still be vulnerable to tearing it again without having the scapula trimmed during the surgury.

I would go see an orthopedic surgeon just to find out what’s what, if you can afford it. I got lucky. I think he said that if the tear is less than 50% they would recommend physical therapy to heal it; surgury if over 50% through the cuff. He also recommended nothing over 30 degrees on the incline bench and NO overhead military presses!

Seen a physical therapist?
Not directly related to the issue of to cortizone or not, but like the person above a couple of members of my family had different levels of success with the shot than usually advertised. One good, two not so helpful.

A physical therapist, particularly one that deals with sorts injuries, may be a good stop. A good one can tell you an awful lot about what is likely going on from seeing your comfort zone moving as well as having a sense from experience about how hard you can push the shoulder. They should also be able to give you more tailored and safer exercises than someone who hasn’t seen you in person.

Supportive Pillow
After decades of whitewater kayaking my shoulders have taken their fair share of abuse. In addition to some innovative conditioning I have found a thicker and firmer pillow helps more than anything. With firm support of your head your shoulder will not compress as much sleeping on your side. Hey, it is a cheap fix to give a try.

On the conditioning side I focus as much on pull down motions as I do pull up motions. Kayaking great Chris Spelious also taught me to lube my shoulder joints using surgical tubing. Simply wrap the tubing around a stationary object holding with one hand and extending the body laterally so the arm is pulling away from the shoulder joint. Do arm circles forwards and backwards til everything is stretched and lubed. Doing stretching before getting in the boat will do wonders for your performance.

I damaged the bursa in my right

– Last Updated: Oct-21-08 9:57 AM EST –

shoulder in a fall . have had 2 cortisone shots that have helped marginally. I can paddle , but a simple back and forth motion , like sanding a paddle, cranks it up. Still debating the 's' word.

Went through a similar thing.
It took a long time to fully recover - about 6 months. I paddled easy for months and no long paddles. When you paddle, warm up slowly. I used to do overhead presses and on one side I could use a 50 lb dumbell and only a 5 lb on the other. Be patient if you can - you have no choice. Shots only give you temporary relief. Baby it and it will heal. The chiropractor I went to said to stay on Glucosamine Chondroitin for the rest of my life - which lubricates the joints. I also went to a regular orthopedic doctor who said the same thing.

Shoulder problems
Can’t treat a problem if you are guessing about what the problem is. Shots mask the problem and let you do more damage. Have it looked at and get a diagnosis. PT can do wonders, much better than cortisone!

Sounds like you are close
to controlling it. Of course pros are the ones to ask, but they vary also.

My personnal experience is avoid the cortizone if possible. If you have Burcitius(sp?) then you will probably have to take the shots. They are temporary.

Best thing that helped me was therapy. If you go a couple of times, get all the literature and exercises, you can do it on your own. Stretching the little rubber bands in a controlled manner and direction, light weight work (or even skip the weights) and my favorite “ball on the wall”.

Try the ball-on-the wall. Put a soccer ball or similar sized ball on the wall at level of your shoulder. Press lightly to moderately with your palm of your affected arm. Move your straight arm in a clockwise motion while keeping the ball pressed and trapped to the wall. Do that for one to two minutes, then reverse the direction of rotation. I don’t care how much working out you have done in the past. This exercise that seems so easy is a punisher. You will build strength and lubrication.

Also, let your arm hang straight down. Adjust your upper body position so your arm hangs like a rope from a branch, by bending forward and slightly to the side. Then simply do the same clockwise and counter clockwise rotations for a couple of minutes.

I swear those two exercises produced the fasteset healing.

That pillow suggestion above is a great one too. Much of the problem can come from sleeping in a position just a little bit wrong.

IBU and low stress exercise is the key. Stay away from weights, especially anything that has you pressing over your head.

If it is just “very slight pain,” then
I would go ahead and paddle, just taking it a bit easy while sorting out what makes a difference. I have often kayaked and canoed with “very slight pain” in one or the other shoulder, and my experience has been that healing can still proceed. It is activities that either give you an immediate jolt of strong pain, or that leave you very stiff and sore the next day, that should be avoided.

I injured my left rotator cuff a year ago, but I found that paddling motions caused only minor twinges, for example during cross-strokes, and that paddling did not worsen the motion limitations (lifting straight up, for example) I experienced off the water. I did not bother with PT. I worked with PTs in research for years, and I find they are quite variable in their ability to diagnose a problem and treat it. I did take a modest dose of 2 to 3 Aleve a day throughout.

Now my left shoulder is working normally in all motions except scratching my upper back. I had been warned that the rotator cuff has a mediocre blood supply and does not heal without surgery, but that now seems not to be the case.

So, again, I say go ahead and paddle. Back off if the minor pain accelerates, but otherwise just take ibuprofen or naproxen regularly, and do what you want.

**Physical Therapist ***
Look around for a physical therapist who specializes in shoulder injuries.

My doctor was useless regarding a shoulder injury.

Nobody here can guess what the problem is until you have it carefully examined and the different range of motions without and with pain noted. An expert can decide if you have serious damage and if not what exercises will stretch or strengthen what you need to adjust to stop the pain. Continuing to do something while it hurts is usually a bad sign. Physical therapy can usually take care of problems without cortisone injections.

Not to hyjack, but would using a GP
help the OP (and me) lessen the risk of shoulder injury? I have been using a large face Cannon paddle on my SOTs and sit in’s and while great for speed, after a 10 miler, my shoulder gets a little tender. I’m a sit up straight up or vertical paddler (paddle close to side) and wonder if this style will increase problems?

Greenland Paddle
My 59 year old joints are much happier now that I’ve switched to a Greenland stick. However, I would definitely see a good physical therapist. They have a better understanding of the musculoskeletal system than many MDs, and can often quickly figure out what’s going on. I’ve had a number of shoulder (rotator cuff) problems over the years, and PT has kept me in the game. At this point, I have a well-designed home exercise program, and it’s kept me from getting new injuries.

to all for sharing your experiences. It seems that pacience, rest and PT will be better meds than cortizone. I’ll hold the shot and ask my doc for physiotherapy instead.

Thanks again & happy paddling,


I’m 54 and developed a “frozen shoulder” a couple of years ago, for reasons unsure. I probably injured my shoulder lifting weights at the Y, but the problem didn’t show up until a couple of weeks later. My shoulders became very stiff and hard to move, and it was very painful if I made quick or jerky movements. After several months of putting up with the pain, I went to a physical therapist for about 6 weeks until I spent all of the money in my health savings account. The therapy seemed to help for a while but then my shoulders got worse. Then I went to a doctor and got a cortisone shot, which helped a little but was no magic cure.

After that, I quit getting treatments. I continued doing stretches that the therapist had showed me, however, and my shoulder gradually got better. I wasn’t paddling during the time this happened. Last spring I started paddling, and my initial fear was that paddling might make my shoulder injury recur. I have been careful to use proper paddling techniques – that is, torso rotation and keeping my arms low – and paddling hasn’t seemed to bother my shoulders so far. I paddled twice weekly all summer long, and my frozen shoulder problems didn’t recur. I did notice that my shoulders were sore after a few weekends when I did a lot of paddling, but I was careful to stretch whenever I noticed that. I’m keeping my fingers crossed because I sure like paddling.

Cortisone was useless for me
I posted some long msgs about my bouts of injuries within the last year+.

To answer your question briefly, the cortisone shot that a shoulder specialist gave me did basically nothing. The physical therapy and home exercises, OTOH, were very helpful. Good enough for me to resume paddling after I had regained some strength and mobility. I am still leaning toward having surgery to make a full recovery, though–or at least as good as can be attained. The joint still has a slight “catch” in it sometimes.

You should see a doctor to start with, and go to a shoulder doctor if your regular doc doesn’t offer any solid advice (mine did not). Most likely the shoulder doc will recommend PT, though he might give you a cortisone shot also.

“shoulder” covers a lot of ground
Professional diagnosis will be very helpful to figure out exactly what is wrong. The rotator cuff, for example, consists of four distinct muscles. Which one is it, or is it the RC at all? Could be something else.

Your insurance situation may have a bearing. Your medical professional is likely to want a CAT scan or MRI and neither of those is cheap. But without proper diagnosis, you’ll have no idea whether you end up aggravating your injury, and you can significantly worsen your prospect of recovery. If paddling is important to you, spend the money.

Some RC injuries are best treated with surgery, but if you have a choice try PT first.

Just amateur advice–take it for what it’s worth.


My HMO required me to get 6 weeks of
PT before they would authorize an MRI. This seemed tremendously stupid, because a PT is more likely to do good work if s/he knows something objective about the nature of the injury. The hangup seems to be not the cost of the MRI itself, but the amount charged by some “expert” to read and interpret it.

I was told to do PT before getting MRI
I don’t know if it was an insurance requirement; it was my shoulder doc’s recommendation based on his physical examination of the injury (I still had reasonable strength).

He did agree to let me get an MRI after the first 3 or 4 weeks of PT, more for my peace of mind than anything else. He didn’t think there was a full tear of the rotator cuff (which the MRI confirmed). Originally I had wanted an MRI before doing PT because I was afraid of doing further damage. However, I not only had rotator cuff impingement but was “unfreezing” a frozen shoulder (which happened in the aftermath of a rib/chest injury). The shoulder doc said that whenever there is frozen shoulder, PT has to be completed before surgery can do any good.