How to Avoid Elbow and Wrist Tendonitis–for Paddlers


By Kim Russell

Have you ever suffered from sore wrists and elbows after a long season of paddling?

Wrist and elbow tendonitis, as well as carpal tunnel, are generally characterized by chronic soft-tissue irritation, leading to inflammation, swelling, decreased circulation and pain. Chronic soft-tissue irritation may occur in paddlers due to the repetitive nature of paddling and the excessive stress on the wrist, shoulder, and elbow joints. This may further be aggravated by injury and muscular imbalance.

But prevention is possible with the right technique and exercises. Here are several tips to reduce your risk of wrist and elbow tendonitis:

1. Warm up

A proper warm up raises the temperature of your muscles via increased blood flow and circulation. This helps bring necessary nutrients and oxygen to working muscles, better preparing them for action and thereby reducing the risk of injury.

An effective paddling-specific warm-up:

20 High knees
20 Forward lunges, extending arms overhead w/each lunge
15 Arm circles, forward and backward
50 Forward strokes
50 Reverse strokes
10 Sweep/reverse sweep on each side
Paddling on edge
In-boat static stretches:
-Torso Rotation with paddle (right and left rotation)
-Forward flexion
-Back Extension
-Wrist Flexion
-Wrist Extension
-Arm circles, forward and backward

The paddler's box.
The paddler’s box.

2. Stay within your paddler’s box

The paddler’s box describes the figurative “box” created between your arms, paddle and chest when you’re holding your paddle. This paddler’s box moves with you as you rotate your torso, and it is generally important to stay within the box as you paddle in order to avoid compromising positions and to prevent strain. As a paddler, the more you can avoid muscle strain, the less likely you are to encounter tendonitis.

3. Maintain a light grip on your paddle

Clenching your paddle quickly fatigues your forearm muscles, leaving you more susceptible to overuse injuries. A lighter grip will reduce your risk of acute injury, as well as tendonitis.

4. When paddling, try to avoid full elbow extension

Instead, focus on reaching forward with your torso (rather than your arms) to start each paddle stroke. This is generally less fatiguing over the course of a long day on the water and will help prevent overuse.


5. Try a bent shaft paddle

The bent shaft puts your wrists in a more neutral anatomical position in comparison to a straight shaft. This means your elbows are in turn more neutrally aligned as well, leading to less soft tissue irritation and less overall strain.

6. Strengthening and Conditioning: Keep your forearms strong!






Reverse Wrist Curl: Start with a light weight, palm down, forearm resting on your thigh. Start the exercise with your knuckles pointing toward the floor, wrist in full flexion. Slowly extend your wrist, bringing the weight toward the ceiling. Complete 3 sets of 10.






Wrist Supination/Pronation: Starting with a light weight held with your thumb toward the ceiling, slowly rotate the weight so your palm is up. Return to the original position, then rotate the weight so your palm is down. Complete 3 sets of 10.

Tennis Ball Squeeze: Hide your dogs, ladies and gentlemen, and get squeezing. You can do a few long squeezes (holding as long as you can) or multiple short squeezes.

7. Rest

As difficult as it may be, don’t be afraid to take the day off and let your body rest. This is just as important as stretching, and strengthening, if not more.

**These exercises may not be suitable for some individuals. Consult your physician before trying any of these movements.**

About the Author:

Kim Russell has a B.S. in Human Physiology and is both a full-time Exercise Specialist and Professional Whitewater Paddler of over seven years. She has won the Western Whitewater Championship Series from 2010-2013, the Wind River Festival from 2010-2013, and the Northwest Creeking Competition from 2009-2013. She has , participated in various FLUX women’s clinics, and is an active member of the Northwest paddling community. You may also find Kim on the local bike trails racing Enduro Professionally, with a notable win of the 2014 Oregon Enduro Series Women’s Pro Category.

For more information on Russell and for similar articles visit her website:

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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