Kayaking Injury RSI trigger point therapy

Elbow pain from kayaking

sea kayakingI have had more than my fair share of connective tissue injuries in my life so far. Indeed one of the reasons for getting into sea kayaking was because of cartilage  damage to both of my knees. As documented in this blog I have also had serious repetitive strain injuries in both forearms from working with computers for a long time.  So maybe it doesn’t come as a surprise to me that kayaking can also cause injury, since paddling is repetitive and can be a strenuous activity.

The main reason that I have been able to do kayaking is that my repetitive injuries in the arms have been localised in the forearms, wrists and hands. Kayaking is is an activity that is mainly done using the upper arms, shoulders and body for rotation and, as such, is not an activity that aggravates computer related RSI in the forearms.  I do, however, have to be careful with my bad right hand wrist. I have also had to use a neutral bent crankshaft paddle to keep the wrists from flexing, which does create pain with a more straight shafted paddle.

What I have recently been experiencing is pain around the elbows, that becomes apparent when kayaking, but goes away when I stop paddling for the day. Having been acutely aware of repetitive injuries, and also having read some good resources, I have at least identified what I believe is causing my elbow pain, I just haven’t yet figured out how to stop it from occurring in the first place!

A very useful resource for sore and tight muscle tissue and referred pain is “The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook” by Claire Davies a book which I have referenced in previous posts. From doing an analysis of the pain in my outside elbow, I was able to see that  a common referrer for such pain is the triceps muscle group. According to the book (ref pg 101-103, ‘Triceps’) there are trigger points in 5 separate  areas of the triceps than can refer pain into the outer elbow. Probing the triceps with my thumb identified an extremely sore and tight inner triceps muscle (referred to in the book as number 1 trigger point), about 4 inches down from the armpit. There were also very tight and sore muscles at the lower end of the triceps right where it meets the elbow (referred to in the book as triceps trigger point areas 2, 4 and  5). I had no tightness in the outer triceps (called triceps trigger area 3).

The tricep/elbow pain issue has come about as a result of a few windy, ‘slog’ like paddles where I am perhaps gripping the paddle tighter than normal, whilst pushing against the wind, coupled with perhaps a non optimal paddling technique. I maybe need to work on more torso rotation on those windier days out, or perhaps switch to a more straight arm paddling style. I may also have to introduce  some warm up stretches before setting off to paddle.

The triceps are one of the harder muscle groups to stretch out, and one of the only ways seems to involve putting your arm right over your head whilst pushing against your elbow or holding a weight to stretch the triceps further, which involves rotating the shoulder joint  as far as possible, which isn’t ideal.

I have started some nightly massage as well as stretching of the triceps muscles and some weights exercises in the hope that I can get them to quickly settle down to a less tight state and obtain some pain free paddling as a result.

Career commentary fitness forearm extensor Lifestyle RSI

Understanding RSI

One of the particular frustrations with having an RSI condition is that, as devastating as its impact can be upon lives and careers, it can be easily dismissed as insignificant or “all in the head” by those who have had no insight into its nature. When even the medical community can be guilty of dismissiveness, it’s little wonder that others can be skeptical too.

It doesn’t help that RSI isn’t a terribly visible condition. Even so, when I was wearing 2 arm braces pretty much on a permanent basis, initially they attracted some comment along the lines of, “What have you done to your arm(s)?”. After some time, however, my colleagues became accustomed to seeing me wearing them and I simply became the guy with the arm braces. It also doesn’t help that an RSI such as mine can preclude the movements that caused it, ie working at a computer, but does not necessarily (and thankfully) mean that other activities can’t be undertaken, ie ones that do not employ the same worn-out muscles. When the activities that can still be engaged in happen to be recreational in nature, this only serves to feed suspicion that the RSI somehow isn’t genuine.

I am fortunate in that I can participate in an outdoor activity that involves the use of my arms, and that is kayaking. To the uninformed, that might seem like a contradiction. How is someone who gave up their career because of forearm pain able to paddle? Some brief consideration of the movements involved should answer that question. There is a substantial difference between clicking a computer mouse and a keyboard all day every day and lifting a paddle in and out of the water over a period of a few hours per week. Indeed, the latter could be deemed as a healthy movement involving mainly the upper arm muscle groups including biceps/triceps and shoulders, with minimal forearm motion, and only a light grip. Regardless, I do still have to be mindful of my paddling technique as, for example, incorrect paddle grip could lead to exacerbation of my RSI, especially in the right hand wrist. Indeed, I have invested in a “neutral bent shaft” paddle that is ergonomically designed to lessen the impact of paddle stroke upon the wrists. It is also exceptionally lightweight.

It is easy to form immediate judgements about others’ conditions, but I would encourage anyone who is suffering from an RSI, or who knows someone who is, to educate themselves on the subject thoroughly before jumping to conclusions concerning capabilities.

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