Common surf injuries (and how to avoid them!)
When you think of how dynamic surfing is, there is a lot of opportunity for the body to experience over load, not to mention the risks of injury while wiping out!
There is the peril of the long periods of paddling with the neck extended and the back arched which can add pressure to the neck and lower back. The shoulders take load during paddling time, the hips need flexibility and the legs need to be strong.
No matter what your age, surfing injuries can limit your ability to enjoy the water and its important to know what the key injuries are and how to avoid them!
Here are the most common injuries that happen to our local surfers from Peregian, Coolum and Noosa that we see here in our clinic at Peregian Springs.
- Facet joint sprains. A facet joint is a small joint in the side of the spine. Facet joint sprains can occur in the neck, upper back or lower back. Surfer’s often suffer facet joint sprains from a large wipe out (like being in the washing machine, the ‘scorpian’ or going over the falls). Long periods of paddling can also irritate the facet joints as periods of extension when paddling (when the lower back or neck are arched upwards) can add to compression into these joints. The pain is often described as sharp when rotating/twisting or extending the body. Learn more about about thoracic injuries here
- Rotator cuff injuries. The rotator cuff muscles in the shoulders are the ‘stability muscles’ that help hold the ball secure in the socket. Surfers often cause ‘wear and tear’ in the rotator cuff tendons from the repetitive motion of paddling. Rotator cuff related pain can radiate down the outside of the upper arm and often be present at night when lying on the shoulder, or worse if using the arm above head. Learn more about shoulder pain here!
- Knee ligament sprains. The twisting forces involved in turning and the reaction needed on the board, ligament sprains and ruptures are common. The knee is not designed to twist (this should happen at the hips!), so if your hips are tight or weak it can create additional twisting force into the knee resulting in ligament strain or pain. (Not to mention knee injuries in wipe outs!)
- Bony foot problems. Perhaps from high loads of surfing or from trauma from the surf board, Kelly Slater has broken his feet over 5 times while surfing. You can also suffer ‘stress fractures’ that occur from accumulative load through the foot, surfing too much.
How do I avoid these??
- Staying strong by complimenting your surfing with a strength and conditioning program is vital. This may involve hip and knee strength, core strength, dynamic balance and shoulder strength. Seeking out a prescribed program from a physiotherapist or specialised trainer may be a great place to start.
- Watch your paddling technique! Lifting the chest more than the chin can help protect the neck from facet joint pain. Lifting your elbows when paddling through (rather than a wide arm swing) can help minimise the load into the shoulder and rotator cuff. Learn more about how your scapula position can add to shoulder pain here!
- Be aware of accumulative load. The surf is good so you stay out for 4 hours? But then it is good the next day so another 3 hours? The load on the shoulders in particular is quite high so it is important to realise that this adds up. Break up your surfs by keeping a water bottle on the beach and paddle in for a rest every 1-1.5 hours. And be aware that you may need a rest day after a big session.
- Keep mobile. Maintaining your mobility in your hips will help you get low for a tight barrel, be able to maintain your spine while paddling forever, and will help you to be supple in a wipe out! Keeping mobility in your rib cage is also essential to reduce load in the neck and shoulders whilst paddling. Watch our easy foam roller stretch routine for thoracic mobility here!
Interested in learning more about how to treat or prevent surfing injuries? Not sure if physio is the right place for you?
We can offer you a FREE 15 min phone consultation with one of our physio team members. Simply contact our friendly admin team on 07 5448 3369 to arrange a time for a physiotherapist to provide a free no obligation phone consultation for you.
Jess Morrin and Caitlin Pender are both keen surfers and love to help surfers with their injuries!