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Could Your Shoulder Pain Be Shoulder Impingement?


The shoulder/upper arm is the most frequently injured area for stand up paddlers, accounting for 33% of all major injuries among people practicing this sport, as found in a study published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. As is the case with surfing, SUPers can face a condition known as shoulder impingement, which occurs when the shoulder’s bursa and/or rotator cuff tendons are trapped and compressed when you raise your shoulder upwards. Not only is this condition (which can be caused by injury or overuse) painful, but it can also lead to other painful conditions, including bursitis and rotator cuff tendon tears. How can you prevent and deal with shoulder impingement should it arise?

What Are The Symptoms Of Shoulder Impingement?

If you have shoulder impingement, then you may find it difficult reaching up behind your back or extending your arms over your head. You may also feel general shoulder weakness, or feel a constant pain in your arm that can get worse at night time. Shoulder impingement is often caused by overuse, though it can also be caused by previous injury, poor posture and trauma. If you have pain when undertaking the above-mentioned movements, it is important to see your doctor, to avoid a worsening of the condition that could result in the need for surgery. During your visit, you will most likely have an X-ray or ultrasound scan carried out to rule out other conditions like arthritis.

sup shoulder pain 1Photo: Shutterstock

Treatment For Shoulder Impingement

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and physical therapy are the usual treatments of choice for shoulder impingement. Your physiotherapist will guide you through a series of exercises aimed at helping your shoulder achieve the full range of motion painlessly, and at strengthening your rotator cuff. They will also teach you how to correctly perform the range of functions you need to excel at stand up paddle without causing injury. They may also recommend manual or vibrating deep tissue massage, carried out by a massage therapist or with the help of a foam roller. Massage can help increase mobility. It can also soothe pain or discomfort that occurs as a matter of course after a long day out at sea.

Preventing Shoulder Impingement

If you have never had shoulder impingement before, it is still a good time to take preventive measures. You can do this by working towards better shoulder strength (through a weights or resistance workout), and by stretching your shoulders well prior to your next SUP workout. Knowing how to paddle with the right technique is key, since postural problems can sometimes be the trigger for a shoulder impingement injury. Hunching over while you are working at the office, for instance, can contribute to injury, so maintaining good posture is key throughout the day – not just when you are practicing your favorite sport.

sup shoulder pain 2Photo: Shutterstock

For every 1,000 hours of SUP, there is an injury rate of 3.63%, the majority of which occur in the shoulder or upper arm. Shoulder impingement is one of these injuries, which can occur from overuse, poor posture or injury. If you have difficulty carrying out your shoulder’s full range of movement, rest and apply ice to the affected area, taking note of the progression of the condition and seeking help so as to nip the problem in the bud.

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