Shouldering Paddling Injuries

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - November 04, 2009
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Paddlers suffer a myriad of injuries

If someone were to ask you what the most common injury suffered by canoe paddlers is, what would your answer be? Is it lower back strains? Or how about an arm or hand injury, or a pulled muscle in your torso?

According to canoe paddlers, the most common is a shoulder injury. A whop-ping 40 percent of canoe paddlers have suffered some type of shoulder ailment.

Outrigger canoe paddling was officially adopted as the “state team sport” of Hawaii in 1986. Twelve years later, surfing was named the “state individual sport.” While there have been numerous studies done through the years on medical conditions that affect surfers, no one had ever examined what kind of trauma canoe paddling can have on the human body - until now.

Drs. Amanda Haley and Andrew Nichols of the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii recently released their findings on the topic in the Hawaii Medical Journal. The purpose of their study was to asses the types and severity of musculoskeletal injuries and medical conditions that affect adult outrigger canoe paddlers on Oahu.

To do so, the local doctors turned to Oahu paddlers from the Hui Wa’a and the Oahu Hawaiian canoe racing associations. Canoe clubs were contacted during the 2006 summer regatta season and 10 clubs agreed to provide paddlers who would voluntarily take part in the survey study. A total of 278 paddlers responded: 142 women and 145 men. They ranged in age from 18 to 72 years. Some were beginners, others were longtime veterans. The surveys were distributed at practices and races, and to preserve confidentiality participants were given the option of returning the surveys to an empty box left in their tent or by mail.


This is believed to be the first study to examine adult outrigger canoe paddling-related injuries and medical conditions.

According the report, 62 percent of those who responded had experienced some type of paddling related musculoskeletal injury. The most common were shoulder (40 percent), back (26 percent), wrist/hand (10 percent), elbow (9 percent) and neck (9 percent).

Forty-nine percent of the paddlers experienced skin lacerations, 33 percent developed heat illness, 32 percent sustained injuries from coral or sea creatures and 24 percent developed skin infections.

Fifteen paddlers said they experienced bone fractures, including 11 broken ribs cases, two to the wrist/hand and one each affecting the head/neck and ankle.

Most of those injured (58 percent) did not seek medical treatment, but 35 percent consulted a physician. Only 2 percent went to the emergency room.

The study also found more injuries occur during the first and third years of paddling or the latter part of the season. Some believe injuries occur during the first season because of a lack of conditioning, experience and proper technique. An increase of injuries during the third year or latter part of the season could be attributed to increased training and more time in the canoe.

It’s interesting to note that the canoe seat position did not seem to influence the frequency of paddling related injuries. Most injuries were mild in severity and short in duration.

After nearly 15 years of competitive paddling, I’ve experienced nearly every injury listed. I’ve strained rotator cuffs and my lower back, broken several ribs, even dealt with nasty skin infections. Most paddlers will admit they do not properly treat and clean skin injuries, and even fewer seek medical attention even when signs of infection surface.

Haley and Nichols hope this study will help paddlers, coaches and medical practitioners to better identify, understand and prevent paddling-related injuries and illnesses. The information is there. It’s up to those who paddle to make use of it.


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