Kayaking in tune with your body
Now that summer is underway, many of us look for activities that can still be done outside and constitute a legitimate workout. One sport that can be done in the summer season is ocean kayaking. The Cape has the advantage of offering a multitude of protected waterways and harbor temperatures that stay relatively warm due to the Gulf Stream. This is an excellent way to get outdoors, see the sights and get a good cardiovascular and upper extremity workout.
The key to enjoying this sport is to learn the correct techniques and to carry appropriate safety gear. Without the correct techniques, the upper extremities and torso are at risk for overuse injury. The stroke can be divided into two types: the forward stroke and the backstroke. The forward stroke is commonly used for forward progression and is the most common to cause overuse.
The most efficient way to generate power as well as prevent injury is to shift the strain from the smallest muscles of the hand and arm to the stronger muscles of the trunk and torso. One way to accomplish this is to imagine your pulling forearm is a rope tied to the paddle by the fingers. The pushing forearm should simultaneously push directly in line with your forearm and wrist. The push and pull should be through the elbow. Minimize deviation of the wrist and this will ward off wrist and elbow tendinitis. This will shift stress to the large pectorals and latissimus (chest and back) muscles as well as to the abdominal, low back and hip muscles.
When feathering the paddle avoid excessive under flexion and extension, which can cause tendinitis in the elbow. Some paddlers actually recommend bracing or taping wrists until this can be properly learned.
While overuse can cause problems, much more severe dangers involve hypothermia and drowning. Always wear appropriate all-weather gear, life preservers and carry necessary safety equipment. Be well versed in self-rescue and safety before leaving shore.
John Willis, MD, is an orthopaedics and sports medicine surgeon in Hyannis. He completed orthopaedics surgery training at the University of Connecticut and has a fellowship in arthroscopy and sports medicine at the Rocky Mountain Sports Medicine Fellowship in Aspen, Colorado. He is board certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgeons.