Protecting Your Wrists - Tendinitis Prevention for Paddlers

Last year I turned 50……..there, I said it, and am wearing it proudly. Much like others, age is nothing more than a transition for me. While I like to get after it with the younger paddlers, despite my best efforts, the time it takes to recover is a little longer these days. Fortunately, I have taken pretty good care of my sum parts & pieces but have had to develop a little more awareness with what my body is telling me.

One topic that seems to keep coming up with my paddling crew is tendinitis.  Personally, I have experienced it and aggressively addressed it before it became worse. After experiencing it personally, and listening to other paddlers talk about this or that remedy, I decided to do some investigation on my own. Hopefully, if anyone reads this, some of this background might prevent a painful condition, that left untreated, can cause other related problems.

By definition, tendinitis, tenosynovitis or intersection syndrome is simply inflammation caused by friction. Paddlers experience this most often behind the thumbs where two tendons intersect. Each tendon is in its own sheath and lubricated internally with synovial fluid. Does that paint a picture of college anatomy? Remember that tendons connect muscle to bones and ligaments connect bone to bone. They are very different, but commonly confused.

Much like anything else that needs lubrication, if there is not enough, friction is created, then heat, then damage. There are a lot of tendons in a human hand that all intersect in the wrist. If any of those tendons are pinched, or overused, we have inflammation (nature’s way of battling injury) and ultimately pain (natures way of alerting us to the problem. If left unchecked, the inflammation & pain can radiate farther up the arm to the elbow & shoulder. The wrist, elbow & shoulder are all linked through an elaborate series of tendons. While tendonitis in the wrist seems isolated, the other joints begin to compromise because of the injury.

If you extend your arms out in front of you, each wrist has 6 different ranges of motion outlined in the picture. As paddlers, we know that our wrists work best flexion & extension. It feels natural, and if we stay true to the concept of using our core & torso rotation, and our wrists remain relatively neutral through a forward paddle stroke.


Deviation, pronation & supination are natural motions for our wrists. The problem comes when we add load, like our paddle blade catching water, to these motions. Generally speaking, we have introduced a force that our wrists are not typically used to. If we do not rotate our torso fully, and combine it with a late release of our stroke, we create a direct force on our wrist. Add to that a big paddle blade, gripping the paddle shaft too tightly, and not being aware of our shaft angle can all contribute to a perfect storm for tendonitis.

Here are a couple suggestions, that have worked for me, in reducing wrist related injuries......

  • Loosen the grip on your paddle
  • Shorten your forward stroke
  • Be aware of your shaft angle
  • Consider a paddle with a smaller blade

My treatment has been as follows........

  • Take a break from paddling (sorry, the inflammation needs to be reduced)
  • RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation)
  • Chiropractic care & acupuncture (six treatments made a world of difference)
  • Using soft wrist braces when getting back on the water
  • Being obsessive about form with the forward stroke

In the end, aging is a beautiful thing. Not as much to prove, less ego and self preservation take place as fixtures in our lives. Despite such noble attributes, we have to be a little gentler with our bodies. We start to pay attention to where the ibuprofen bottle is in our kit. Fortunately, tendinitis is one of those things we can manage and often overcome with some very simple techniques.

See you on the water!