Paddlers Elbow: 9 New Tips to Get Rid Of It Forever

paddlers elbowLet`s start out with a dumb question…

What does tennis and kayaking have in common?

Both of these recreational sports require you to use your arms in ways that can sometimes cause injury.

So if you have elbow pain from kayaking – let me tell you…

You are not the first!

It is more commonly known as Paddlers elbow.

Tennis elbow is also term commonly used to describe a painful condition that can develop during overuse of your forearms, especially combined with with wrist extension.


Interestingly, less than 5% of tennis elbows are due to sports activities.

Here is a Quick Summary of the Tips:

  1. Strengthen Arms and Shoulders
  2. Use a Bent Paddle Shaft
  3. Stay in your Box
  4. Avoid overextending your elbows
  5. Stretch before you hit the water
  6. Relax your paddle grip
  7. Follow the 3 Golden Rules
  8. Pay attention to your body
  9. Use Caution during other activities

Kayaking is an activity that is well known to cause elbow and shoulder problems.

You may have sometimes heard of this condition being called a paddlers elbow in the water sport world.

It hurts to deal with a painful elbow, but there are many things you can do to keep the pain at bay so you spend more time on the water instead of the shoreline.

What is Paddlers Elbow?         

Peddler’s elbow is a form of tendonitis.

This condition occurs when the tendons around the elbow become swollen and irritated.

Tendon tissue has tight bands that help hold your muscles in the bones.

Their purpose is to stretch, but they can only go so far as other parts of your body.

When these tendons are forced to go beyond their limits, they can cause small tears.

The tendon then causes inflammation which leads to pain when they go through the repair and healing process.

Although peddler’s elbow is painful, most people heal well with a proper treatment plan.

What are the symptoms of paddlers elbow?

Many kayakers have noticed that paddlers elbow develops slowly over time.

The pain sometimes feels mild at first and if you engage in activities that cause more trauma.

But here`s the thing…

The pain is usually outside the elbow near the part of the bone where your arm bends.

Some kayakers say that the pain sometimes spreads to their upper and lower arms.

The pain can feel like constant pain when you are using your arm.

Some people also describe a burning sensation or stabbing pain in their affected elbow.

Depending on the severity of the injury, you may have a weak grip, and the elbow pain may wake you up at night.

Simply holding a paddle can cause pain and agony.

Even the smallest paddle strokes can be enough to send you to shore.

Can You Still Kayak With an Elbow Injury?

Most cases of the peddler’s elbow can be healed without trips to your Doctor.

If the injury is mild, you may still be able to, if you take some extra precautions.

Choosing a calm body of water for your kayaking adventure requires little strength which avoids putting more pressure on your elbow or aggravating it even more.

Check out the forum over at the UK Rivers Guidebook, where others just like discuss common kayaking injuries.

How Long Is Too Long to Paddle When You Are Injured?

Consider planning a short trip that will allow you to take several breaks.

If your elbow starts to hurt badly, then get ready to go back to shore and apply ice to your affected elbow.

Tandem kayaking is an option that some people use when recovering from paddler’s elbow.

If you have a friend who doesn’t mind paddling most of the time, you can give it a try.

Paddle kayaks are another option you can use to get out on the water.

Using your legs may not be your favorite method of kayaking, but it is an option when your elbow is injured.

How Can I Avoid Getting Paddler’s Elbow?

Prevention of an injury that causes long-term pain is important.

There are several things you can do to help keep your elbow from getting worse.

Most professional and amateur kayakers follow these guidelines to keep their elbows in good shape.

1. Strengthen Your Arm and Shoulder Muscles

strengthen arms shoulders

Strong muscles in your arms and shoulders help reduce the stress on your hips as well as your hips.

Kayakers benefit from developing their wrists and arms.

Strength training that focuses on your biceps, triceps and forearm muscles will help decrease your chances of injury.

These muscles are often overlooked during strength training workouts, and you will notice a difference when you pedal after focusing on that part of your arm.

Reverse wrist curls are great for helping to strengthen the muscles that run from your wrist to your elbow.

The top side of your forearm.

Do not ignore your shoulder muscles.  The best exercises to strengthen them are shoulder presses and side lateral raises.

2. Try a Bent Shaft Paddle

bent paddle shaft

The tilted shaft pedal has many advantages that help prevent the paddle elbow.

These paddles are designed to help you keep your hands in the proper position for paddling without causing injury.

Many kayakers also like the fact that they are lighter and smaller than traditional straight paddles.

A light paddle helps you avoid straining your elbow during long or challenging campaigns.

3. Stay within the Paddlers Box

paddlers box

Although a strange term, this is vital to a successful, injury free time on the water.

Keeping your body in the position of your paddlers box helps you avoid unnecessary pressure on your muscles.

This strategy is often considered the best way to prevent a shoulder injury, but it is just as effective in preventing a paddler’s elbow.


It will help improve your power and efficiency.

4. Avoid Overextending Your Elbows

avoid overextending elbows

Your elbows should be comfortable and bend as slightly as possible.

You should never fully extend your elbows as this puts extreme pressure on your forearm flexors and extensors.

You would have to fully extend your arms way out on the paddle in order to extend your elbows and you would not be able to generate much power.

Overtime this can cause inflammation, irritation and swelling in your elbows.

Keep an eye out for obstacles that may require you to make quick and sudden moves with your kayak.

5. Stretch Before You Go Kayaking

stretch before paddling

When you use your arms to pedal, your elbows are more likely to have stiff tendons and muscle tears.

Some light stretches which helps to loosen these tendons by sending blood flowing to your arms.

Plan enough time for warm water, including wrist and arm stretches before hitting the water and finishing the day.

6. Relax Your Grip

relax paddle grip

In rough water and extreme conditions, you are tempted to hold your paddle firmly.

New kayakers grip their paddles very tightly as they are concerned with maintaining good paddling techniques and/or losing their paddle.

Take a deep breath and try to remind yourself to loosen your grip.

When you exercise and strengthen your arm and shoulder muscles, you will find that you naturally begin to maintain a relaxed grip, which reduces muscle tension with your elbow.

7.  Follow the 3 Golden Rules When Paddling

 1. Use a co-operative division of your body.  This basically means as your upper body performs one task, your lower body performs another task.           

2. Maintain the power position – the concept here is to always keep your hands in front of your body.  Do not let your hands go behind your shoulders as you can risk injury.  In other words, stay inside your box. 

 3. Torso rotation – This will take some of the strain off your arms and allow for longer strokes with much more power.

8. Pay Attention to Your Body’s Signals

At some point, almost every kayaker will feel some kind of pain from their muscle fatigue or overuse.

This is especially true if you have had an elbow injury in the past.

If your elbow hurts more than usual or with certain movements, simply take a time out.

Another option is to search out calmer waters.

9. Use Caution during Other Activities

Paddler’s elbow can be caused by your other things or made worse.

For example, doing chores around the house such as painting, gardening, working with power tools, etc…can cause your elbow injury to get worse. 

Beware of any activity that involves repetitive movements that involves wrist extension.

Taking care of your elbows when you are out of the water helps ensure that they will be pain-free when you have the opportunity to go kayaking.

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