I’ve had my fair share of sports injuries now, but the one that keeps coming back is tennis elbow. Lateral Epicondylitis (or “Tennis elbow” to it’s friends) is a painful imflammation to the outside of the elbow joint. In kayaking, there’s several factors which can lead to this. Using a blade size thats too big, arm paddling (over-working the arms to compensate for poor trunk rotation) and simply over-doing it can all lead to painful elbows. Another thing that really triggers it for me is gripping the paddle shaft too hard.
On the flat:
Holding the paddle in a vice-like grip all day puts a lot of strain on the forearm muscles that flex and extend the wrist. A lot of people do it, but do it often enough and you’ll know about it! The key is to realise when you’re doing it. Do you really have to hold the paddle so tight on flat water? I doubt it… If you find yourself getting elbow pain, one of the easiest technique changes to make is opening up your top hand as you push through the forwards paddle stroke. It shouldn’t have any effect on the stroke, as the bottom hand is still in control and it does mean that you’re gripping the paddle for only half the time. As well as this, concentrate on paddling technique focusing on really rotating from the core. A good way to think of this whilst paddling is imagining that you have stiff arms and can only bend your elbows a tiny amount. Straight away, you’ll be bringing the core muscles in to play.
Stepping up a gear:
People tend to grip tighter as well when “the fear” creeps in on harder water. Being tense is more likely to cause you problems on white water, so the mind becomes just as important as technique. Once you’ve decided that it’s safe to run a rapid and that it’s within your capability, try to put any negative thoughts out of your head and concentrate on what you need to do. Where’s the line? Language can have a big effect here. “There’s a lovely line on the right” is a much better phrase than “you’re toast if you go too far left!” What key strokes will you need and where will you use them? Somewhere between freezing up and not paddling, and going hell for leather lies a happy medium. Less strokes can be more, if you make them count. If you’re more relaxed, you won’t be too tense and take it out on your paddle with a white-knuckle-death grip.
In the cold:
In really cold weather, usually it’s my hands that suffer the most and lose feeling the quickest. With hands like ice blocks, you’re forced to hold the paddle more tightly and you’ll feel it at the end of the day! The obvious thing to do is to try and keep your hands as warm as possible. I find that I have to grip harder when wearing gloves, because of the loss of feeling. For this reason, i now prefer to wear open palm mitts or pogies instead. Something that I’ve found to make a real difference is this:
Surfboard wax rubbed on to the paddle shaft makes it far easier to hold on to. I’m afraid you’ll want the stuff designed for cold water in this country…
You’ll definitely want to put it on the side that you use for your control hand, but it’s personal preference whether you wax the other end. Personally, I put it on both and the left hand can still slide without any problems.
As they say, prevention is better than cure… Think about the way you hold the paddle on the flat, fight the urge to tense up on white water and keep your hands warm when the temperature drops and hopefully you’ll keep your elbows pain-free!