WW Canoeing after Shoulder Replacement

Sorry if this is not the best place to ask this question, but here goes:

I used to teach whitewater canoeing and kayaking and now want to get back into the sport after 20 years. My first attempt was working out with a dragon boat team, which quickly revealed very severe shoulder pain resulting from old skiing and paddling injuries. Now that I’ve had an MRI, my orthopedic surgeon suggest that my rotator cuff is in such bad condition that what’s called a “reverse delta shoulder replacement” may be the only solution.

Researching online, I’ve found that contact sports are not recommended after such surgery but I haven’t found anything about canoeing. As an older person, I don’t care about getting back to super challenging whitewater, but I would like to at least be able to canoe class I and II, fairly easy moving water. I’m looking at having a small composite canoe made, so it should be fairly light and easy to maneuver.

Do any of you have experience with paddling after such surgery? It’s fairly major surgery that I don’t want to undertake unless I feel confident that I’ll be able to paddle afterwards. I have nearly full range of motion and little pain except when paddling, so other than to get back into paddling, there’s no urgent reason to have the surgery.

You might also inquire on boatertalk.com
Lots of ww paddlers go through, or up against, screwed up rotator cuffs.

There was once a guy named Charlie Patton who paddled his canoe with one arm and part of another, the remnant arm serving to pull the paddle through a prosthesis. He was able to run difficult class 2 rapids, and the first difficult rapid on the Nantahala, Pattons Run, is named after him.

So I think that the arm connected to your injured shoulder is not likely to become a driving hand, pushing hand, but might still serve as a guiding hand through some sort of shoulder and arm brace, attached to the paddle. Perhaps you could manage low angle kayak paddling, but I think one-sided canoe paddling is more likely.

There’s also that Hobie thing you power through your feet…

Thanks EZWater
Yep, I used to work for NOC, so I’ve run Patton’s Run zillions of times.

If I have the surgery, I wouldn’t take up kayaking again, only canoeing. So that would allow me to paddle only on my customary left side, opposite my bad right shoulder. Hopefully that would work OK.

Attempting dragon boating again probably wouldn’t be a good idea since it’s all about hard power forward strokes and requires switching from side to side to paddle on both sides of the both. The teamwork is lots of fun but, to be honest, I prefer the more intricate, delicate maneuvering that’s such an important part of the joy of solo canoeing.

Second Opinion
I think you should get a second opinion.

I doubt you will find many paddlers who have had that specific surgery and even if you do every person is different and your result could be completely different than others.

I completely understand the tough spot you are in. I’m seeing the end of my paddling days on the near horizon as well and its not a great feeling.

The rotator cuff is complicated, so
you’re correct in planning some empiricism regarding the best side for canoe paddling. When I’ve tweaked my rotator cuff, sometimes pulling has been better preserved, sometimes pushing. I’m a very left-sided paddler, and so I would not want to have to switch sides. But thinking back, I started right-sided in c-1, hurt my shoulder trying to learn to roll, switched to left, and have been a lefty paddler ever since.

I used to be the GCA boat inspector at the Southeastern Races on the Nantahala, and paddled the Nanty many times, so you may have noticed me as “the big dumb guy”.

Try asking over on cboats dot net
and run a search for shoulder replacement surgery. That forum is more geared toward whitewater open and C1 boaters and I do recall seeing threads regarding whitewater paddling after various types of shoulder reconstruction.

My guess is that you might well find someone who has undergone shoulder joint replacement with a reverse prosthesis but as rpg51 correctly points out, even if you do so use caution in extrapolating their experience to your expectations, since their pathophysiology and healing potential might differ from yours.

It probably doesn’t hurt to have your symptoms, physical findings, and MRI images reviewed by a second orthopedic surgeon just to rule out the possibility that a more conservative type of reconstruction might be applicable. But if your MRI shows rotator cuff damage so severe as to warrant a reverse shoulder replacement you probably have enough joint and tendon damage that your existing degree of shoulder instability will not allow you to resume paddling without some type of reconstruction.

I am experiencing shoulder issues with my off-side shoulder which are much less severe than yours. I find my problems are exacerbated by cross strokes, especially hard cross-forwards, which tend to pull the humeral head up and forward, the worst and least stable position for someone with severe rotator cuff damage and joint instability. I have had to modify my technique to use those strokes sparingly and correct from my on-side stern quadrant more, which allows me to keep that humeral head low, tight, and back.

If that is also the situation you find yourself in, using a more conventional “long boat” for whitewater might be a better choice than the newer, short polyethylene boats that stall quickly and need to be driven from the bow quadrants.

Down time
I had an A. C. Separation of my right shoulder.

I got t boned by a 3/4 ford in a Toyota mini PU on Las Vegas blv. In frond of the hasenda hotel.

My elbow dropped to my belt this was very painful.

My shoulder was rebuilt but no new parts just a mesh to hold it together.

But the down time was 9 months and it still hurts. So ask about down time.

I just got a steroid injection it was like magic no pain.

I am also going to say 2nd opinion? Steroids?

Don’t do it till you absolutely have to. All my repairs, still hurt.

And I have 7 procedures on hold. Knees,ankle, wrists, back, hernia and vein.

Limitations are shackles we apply to our selfs

I’ve been operated on twice although no replacement surgery. However there were some significant injuries/tears. I spent in total about 1.5 years in PT. It was a long, painful process to heal. It’s not back to 100% but it’s good enough for some flat water paddling. I’m not a WW paddler but I don’t think I’d try it even if I had been.

What I will suggest is that in addition to the surgery and PT is that you get a really good massage therapist who’s skilled at therapeutic massage to work on scar tissue that you will have. The scar tissue will limit your mobility. This is not fun and it can be quite painful at times but it is SO worth the time/expense. My surgeon was 100% behind me doing this and he was quite pleased with the results.

Good luck.

I sure hope they’re not still doing PT more than 4 years after the original post.

@ptickner said:
I sure hope they’re not still doing PT more than 4 years after the original post.

HA! LOL Didn’t happen to notice the post date. However, I’m still glad I chimed in as someone may have the same question(s).

I know three serious sea kayakers who have had shoulder replacements and are back in action but it took several months.

No problem replying to an old post. Just giving you a hard time :wink: . I used to make my living in a whitewater canoe, but the years finally caught up and I ended up with a rebuilt shoulder after a particularly nasty dislocation. Replacement was mentioned as an option, but none of the doctors I consulted thought it was the best option. However, even with lots of PT (and some massage) I was never able to get back my full mobility. I’d say 90-95%, but not 100%. I continued to paddle recreationally, but not in a position where somebody’s life might be on the line.

I had to go for the fourth rotator cuff surgery on my right shoulder. Doc told my that I should only do low angle kayak paddling. Went for a replacement. That doc told me he could fix my shoulder and failed. I want no more surgery. I paddle a kayak. Have a limit of about 5 miles. Often have pain. Tried rowing. No pain. Do not feel limited. Got a rowing machine coming. Will probably start rowing with the club.