Preventing Shoulder Injuries When Kayaking


Kayaking is a demanding sport regardless of how hard you paddle.  Whether you paddle everyday or you’re just a weekend warrior, we have to take care of our shoulders.  The kayakers that are most resistant to shoulder injuries have a combination of strength, endurance, and speed.  Some other factors that make kayakers less susceptible to shoulder injuries are stretching, proper technique, and warming up.

Exercising and training on and off the water play an important role as well.  Now I’m not saying that if you do all of the things listed above that you can’t get hurt.  You could be doing everything right and still get hurt.  If you could predict everything that’s going to happen in kayaking then it wouldn’t be so exciting.   That’s why we do it, right?

Stretching – Before you dive into your kayak it’s essential to loosen up the body.

  • Neck (half rotations)
  • Wrist
  • Shoulders
  • Arms
  • Thighs
  • Hamstrings
  • Torso

Proper Technique – Technique is a habit that will help you excel on the river and prevent injuries

  • Suspension in arms
  • Hands/paddle in front of your body
  • Keeping power hand below head

Problem: sore wrists, hands, and forearms.  Many times this is caused by oily hands, which forces you to over grip the paddle.

Solution: Wash your hands with a little bit of sand to get sunscreen and other oils off the hands.  Also look into getting a bent shaft paddle.

Warming Up: This will give you a full range of motion before paddling.  It also allows you to get much more comfortable in you kayak.

  • 20 forward strokes slow
  • 20 forward strokes fast
  • 20 backstrokes
  • 10 C-C strokes on the left/right sides (C-C is a turn stroke that is used to peel in and out of eddies, and turn using forward momentum).
  • Edging drill-left/right sides (see photo above)

Exercising – Building strength and endurance is great for paddling hard and essential to preventing injury.

  • Rotator Cuff Exercises (rubber band is super handy because you can take it anywhere!)
  • Dips
  • Push-ups
  • Plank press
  • Crunches
  • Jump Rope

For more questions or if you would like to learn the warm up drill, email If you are having shoulder problems, I recommend going to a physical therapist.

Like this blog by one of Missoula’s legendary kayakers?  Check out these blogs by Jason Shreder:  Kayaking the Lochsa River or The Sellway River — A Preason Kayaking Treat .

You may also want to check out our page on Missoula Kayaking, Canoeing, and Rafting.

See Jason Shredder’s “Go With the Flow” archive.


Jason Shreder, owner of local whitewater company Zoo Town Surfers. I love Missoula, the great community, and all the awesome water that surrounds it.  I’m constantly moving and 90% of that movement involves kayaking, rafting, working, and hanging out with my awesomely supportive girlfriend and dogs.