“No pain, no gain” is no longer a smart or responsible attitude to training. Pain generally is an indication that something is wrong and it is advisable the athletes learn to listen very carefully to their bodies to avoid injury or prevent smaller injuries from growing bigger. All pain represents a potential for something bad and knowing what minor pain means can allow an athlete continue training without causing greater damage.
Most commonly experienced are the effects of a very intense training session which can result in microscopic tears in muscle fibre and over stretched tendons among others. This can result in a general muscular pain and swelling that is most intense 36 hours after the workout, known as DOMS (Delayed-onset of Muscle Soreness) and can last up to 5-10 days. Convention wisdom of the past prescribed working DOMS out your body by hitting it hard the next day, though this may only result in breaking the muscle down further, and while not causing a serious injury, will impair training. At its mildest, DOMS is the muscular stiffness and discomfort experienced after a workout; at its worst, the effected area will be red and swollen, feel hot, and hurt like hell. Encouraging blood flow to the effected area through a mild workout, massage or cross training activities is the current treatment for DOMS.
With a proper warm-up and stretch before and after a training session, as covered in Section 3, injuries can be minimized. It is important to remember that the duration of warm-up depends greatly on the ambient air temperature. The colder it is outside, the longer the warm-up and vice versus. Warm-down is vital since muscles and tendons often experience motion which is limited to some degree during a workout and need to be stretched out to full length again to avoid strain once they ‘cool down’.
Lack of spinal flexibility, particularly in the Thoracic region, can also result in damage to trapizius and rotator cuff muscles and even deltoids, as they all work together as a correlated system. Nagging neck pain or uncomfortable stiffness in the middle back is more than often the result of limited movement between joints in the spinal column. Stretching exercises, therapeutic massage and spinal manipulation goes a long way in treating a problem which have developed. More importantly, however, it¡¯s worth considering such therapy for injury prevention or improved performance as much as for rehabilitation.
Injury can result from factors other than a lack of sufficient warm-up, however, and it is important to be aware of what these may be and what to do if an injury is sustained.
Improper technique, for instance, is the usual cause of injury by unduly stressing joints, tendons and muscles. Sudden damage occurs when a tendon, cartilage or a muscle is torn, but more often injury in dragonboating is the result of improper technique due to small amounts of stress adding up over time to adversely affect the body. Other injuries result from simply over use of a joint, muscle or tendon.
Shoulders are the usual areas subject to injury caused by excessive movement which goes beyond the natural range of motion (if there ever is such a thing in this sport). For example, there is a tendency to over reach and apply power to the stroke without first stabilizing the shoulder with the adductor muscles around the shoulder blade (scapula), particularly when a paddler gets tired at the end of a session. Or on the recovery, if the upper shoulder ‘hunches up’ too high rather than staying ‘locked down’ by the scapula abductors, it can cause an impingement problem and pain.
Most problems associated with shoulders, in fact, are usually related to rotator cuff and subacromial bursa impingement. This can happen either in the boat or most commonly in the weight room. Bench Press and Military Presses are the worse offenders particularly when the shoulder muscles ‘bunch’ up at the top end of a repetition.
b) Wrists and Forearms
Pain in both upper and lower wrists usually results from cocking the wrist one direction or another during the power phase or recovery of the stroke. This practice can add tremendous strain on forearm flexors causing inflammation of tendons particularly close to the elbow not unlike tennis elbow. Tunnel carpal syndrome can also develop causing a numbness to fingers.
The best way to alleviate these problems is to develop a ‘softer’ grip on the paddle with your lower hand and to minimize wrist movement during the stroke.
c) Lower Back
Herniated disks or strained muscles can result from improper technique of inadequate stretching, particularly as we grow older. The principle means to mitigate lower back pain or injury is to develop a strict exercise regime that target strengthening back muscles and provides for flexibility.
More often than not, lower back pain results from a strength imbalance where for example the abdominals may be stronger than the erectors; or perhaps where the lower abdominals are not as developed as the upper abdominal muscles. Other stabilizing muscles should not be overlooked in training such as the Gluteus maximus, hamstrings and Quadriceps. Weakness or lack of flexibility here can result in back pain as well. But take care! Doing sit-ups while holding weighs is a sure way to invite injury.
Strangely enough paddlers often have knee problems associated with over-development of the Quadriceps or off centre loading. The intense isometric load on the quads when paddling combined with dryland training such as squats, rowing machines or running can create an imbalance between the Quads and the Hamstrings at the back of the thigh. This can result in excessive wear on the cartilage as the kneecap is pulled upward due to a weak resistance from the opposite direction. Hamstring curls to strengthen the back of the leg will alleviate the problem in a short time.
Intense deep pain in the lungs sometime occurs when your not getting enough oxygen and can be expected if your pushing the limits of performance, however, it can also be a symptom underlying heart disease. Peer pressure in a dragonboat can be intense, so before pushing it to extremes, individuals should know whether their bodies are capable of such work. Similar pain can result from strain to the tendons connecting the sternum to the pectoral muscles. The bottom line is that if you are experiencing chest pains of any sort, its worth having it checked out by an physician immediately.
Be aware that during a workout is not the best time to assess a pain or injury since the body naturally manufactures endorphins which can block even severe pain during exercise.
The following is a description of common injuries to paddling and the associated care for rehabilitation:
Tendinitis is the inflammation of tendons which connect muscles to bone, and is usually the result of overuse of an extremity. Generalized nagging pain is experienced rather than pain in a specific location and is often associated with light swelling. Pain is most intense after exercise.
The problem with this injury is that continued use of the extremity will aggravate the injury further, therefore total rest is the key. Starting back into training too soon will only prolong healing. Vigilant rest, ice and sometimes anti-inflamatories or aspirin will help the recovery.
Strains result from a stretched or torn muscle or tendon. Generalized pain, mild swelling and occasional bruising are the symptoms. Given the complex nature of shoulders, the actual location of pain may in fact not be the source of the problem. Rest, ice, compression and elevation are the best forms of treatment followed by easy exercise within a week or two. It is important to work such an injury back in slowly rather than leaving it alone totally to avoid excess build up of scar tissue and potential restriction of movement.
The infamous ‘POP’ sometimes heard at the moment of an injury is the rupture of a ligament which connects one bone to another, resulting in a sprain. Sprains are rare in dragonboating due to a restricted range of motion, but have very similar symptoms to a sprain, ie. generalized pain, mild swelling and possible bruising.
There is a fluid-filled sac in the shoulder which separates muscles and tendons from bone that can become inflamed causing acute pain, or can become completely deflated causing chronic pain. Pain will be point specific centred around the joint and will often flare up after activity. Acute bursitis can be treated with rest, ice and anti-inflammatories, while chronic bursitis is much more severe and may require more drastic treatment such as fluid injections etc. Rest is advised.
Rare, but when it happens you’ll know it! Paddlers have been known to pop their shoulder back into place and keep on paddling. This is not advisable. Light traction is used to ‘relocate’ the shoulder joint and then the arm should be put in a sling. With rest paddling can resume in a short time. Chronic dislocation may need surgery to correct.
In summary some basic rules should be applied to avoid injury:
If an injury is sustained;
Lastly, it is important to understand the effects of intense training on a body also go beyond physical damage. As an athlete becomes more fit and fat levels decrease, the risk of infection and illness caused by exposure to viruses becomes greater due to a weaker immune system. Good nutrition and adequate rest are fundamental to good health particularly as the athlete approaches peaks stages of conditioning. A simple cold can spread like wild fire through a team working together in such close proximity, so its worth a little extra care, and a few more vitamins.
The Hong Kong Island Paddle Club is proud to announce that the 11th Deep Water Bay Dragon Boat Races on 9th May 2010 was the first Carbon Neutral dragon boat race in the world. With the innovative partnership of Carbon Care Asia, a low carbon solutions specialist, this event was also Hong Kong's first carbon neutral sports event.
Hong Kong Island Paddle Club is partnering with the Hong Kong Shark Foundation
If you are interested in sponsoring the Hong Kong VRC Paddle Club please email Stephane Boualam, Sponsorship Secretary, for more information.