Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Rotator cuff and the paddler

Here's the detail

I'm in recovery from a rotator cuff injury and part of that recovery is educating myself.  I was extremely disappointed to have suffered the injury because I know my main shoulder muscles are plenty strong.  I felt over-confident in fact until my daughter asked me whether I trained the stabilizer muscles of the shoulder, that is the muscles of the rotator cuff.  No I said.

Here's my bird's eye view of that joint so important to paddlers.  I'm not qualified in the field but what follows is research I've done; you should satisfy yourself if any of this is useful.

The rotator cuff comprises four muscle and tendons that hold the ball of the upper arm in the socket of the shoulder.  An injury can occur in any of the four so to track it down its necessary to know something about each.

Going clockwise from lowest in the photo are:

The (1) teres minor, and (2)  infraspinatus rotate the shoulder and arm externally.

The (3) supraspinatus begins to raise the shoulder joint and arm when held out to the side.

The (4) subscapularis attaches to the front ribs and rotates the shoulder internally or forward and it also pulls the ball of the upper arm down so that the shoulder joint can clear the clavicle when raising the arm to the side above shoulder height.

There are strengthening and stretching exercises and for each of these muscles and tendons.  They are easy to find by googling.  I know they are important now.  I just wish I had realized it before my injury because I could have avoided it.  I hope others can learn from my experience.

Educated comments , or other insights, invited!


  1. Hi Tony, I am glad it's just my knee that's the problem. I wish you a very speedy recovery. I hurt my left shoulder about 13 years ago. My feet slipped climbing a steep polished crack in the Skye Cuillin. My left hand was jammed in the crack and when I slipped I took all my weight on my shoulder. It was really painful, especially lifting above my head for about a year after. Then it just gradually disappeared. I really hope yours clears up soon.

  2. Thanks so much Douglas. The shoulder is a one of a kind joint and so important to us as kayakers. I abused it through overuse not only paddling but otherwise also. I hope that anyone who has read the couple of posts can learn from my mistake.

    I'm going to continue to paddle because I feel I must but taking it a bit easier and more time between paddles. And, I'm going to try out the Greenland paddle to see if it is in fact gentler on the joints.

    Tony :-)