The most common injury to whitewater kayakers is the dislocated shoulder. However, this injury is easily avoided if proper techniques are followed. By doing one basic maneuver you can eliminate shoulder dislocation almost entirely as a potential kayaking injury.
One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between an experienced whitewater kayaker and an inexperienced one is how they react when they drop into a hole, or reversal. An experienced kayaker will keep their composure. Their body will remain upright and their arms will stay low and tight. An inexperienced kayaker will lean back; their arms will start creeping up their body until they are extended way downstream and over their heads. They look like they are holding on for dear life and totally out of control.
These are the people most susceptible to shoulder dislocation. When the arms are extended over the head they are asking for trouble.
By leaning back they’re losing control of the boat because their knees tend to fall away from the kayaks thigh braces. This is a vital contact point, which is needed to keep the boat on edge and stable. Without the contact they’re setting themselves up to be violently flipped upstream. This, in and of itself is not a concern; however when you combine it with the arms being extended out and over the head, it becomes disastrous.
The force of the water hitting your arms and paddle will rip your shoulders backwards. If your arms are extended over your head, there’s nothing keeping them from continuing the backwards motion and dislocating. Even the strongest paddler’s shoulders are no match for the energy of fast moving water.
So what’s the answer? How do you keep this from happening? Simply keep your hands and arms beneath the level of your shoulders. If you ever find yourself getting out of control think about what your arms are doing. Don’t let the paddle start creeping over your head.
If you flip over and a rush of current grabs your paddle and starts pushing you and your shoulders back, but your posture and technique are good; you’ll feel the paddle hit your chest but your shoulders won’t be able to go any further. Your body will block any unnatural shoulder motion. Your body may be slammed back but your shoulders will be safe.
Another reason to keep your hands and arms low (as if you need another reason) is a more effective paddle stroke. Turning strokes and brace strokes are much more efficient if your arms are kept low and tight to your body.
Shoulder dislocations are only common to whitewater kayaking because of poor form and technique. Once a whitewater kayaker gets control of their arms and paddle, the occurrence of shoulder dislocations will disappear.