News & Events

Staying Safe and Healthy When Paddling

Date: 07/20/2021

For some Mainers, summertime means getting outdoors and enjoying all the adventures Maine has to offer. Maine has many rivers and lakes, and the most extensive coastline in the continental United States, so paddling sports are a popular choice for outdoor enthusiasts.

Whether you enjoy canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding or white-water rafting, it’s always best to be mindful to stay healthy and have the most fun possible!

Jacob Powell, ATC, is an athletic trainer with Northern Light Sports Health. He’s taken some time to share great information to help you be prepared and ready to get on the water this season.

According to Jacob, “While there are many things to take into consideration when staying safe on the water, muscle and joint injuries are the most common kinds of issues associated with paddling.”

Types of injuries:

  • Musculoskeletal injuries are the most common type associated with paddling sports. Shoulder, neck, and lower back occur most often.

    • Tendonitis is a frequent injury in paddlers and occurs towards the end of a season when the repetitive movements have happened excessively over a long period of time. This injury is common in the shoulder, elbow, and wrist. Tendinitis is characterized by inflammation and irritation of the tendons that surround those joints and can cause pain with activity, tenderness, and decreased motion and strength.

    • Paddling induced lower back pain is often referred to as “yak back” in the sport. This can be caused by improper form, overuse, or a seat that isn’t fitted correctly in a kayak.

    • Muscle strains and joint sprains around the shoulder, elbow, and wrist can occur when an excessive force is used in paddling when fighting currents or rough conditions. The paddler may feel or hear a pop or crack, have increased pain with activity, feelings of instability, and a decrease in motion and strength. 

Treatment of injuries:

  • If an injury occurs while boating, discontinue activity immediately and seek medical attention. A proper diagnosis from a healthcare professional is critical to determine any needed treatment or intervention. 

    • For any soft tissue injuries, treat with the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) method initially and seek medical advice.

    • Do not resume activity until fully recovered from your injury.

“Being outdoors in nature it’s easy to underestimate the potential risks,” states Jacob. “That’s why it’s so important to ‘Be aware and prepare.’”


  • Be realistic when planning your outing and assess your physical conditioning before heading out on a paddling adventure. If you have been stretching and working out on a regular basis, you will be able to avoid injury much better than if you have been sedentary and decide to go on a five-mile paddle.

  • Prior to paddling, be sure to stretch; especially your wrists, shoulders, neck and back.

  • ALWAYS wear a lifejacket or PFD (personal floatation device).

  • Stay calm and stable while in a boat.

  • When entering a canoe/kayak, you should:

    • Keep weight centered and low.

    • Use both hands on the sides of the boat for balance.

    • Be mindful of other larger boats as their wakes increase the risk of your boat capsizing.

    • Do not lean or stretch out to grab items that have fallen overboard, use your oar or paddle to retrieve it.

    • ALWAYS maintain three-points of contact for added stability.

  • Take a hands-on training course to get familiar with navigating a canoe or kayak. 

  • Try and avoid kayaking or canoeing alone; use the “buddy system” whenever possible. If unable, at least let someone know your plan: where you are going, what you will be doing, how long you will be gone.

  • Be sure to take and drink plenty of water. Dehydration can lead to muscle spasms and increased chance of injury.

Getting on the water is a great way to see the beauty of Maine. From canoe trips to rafting adventures, there are memories just waiting to be made. Staying safe and healthy through knowledge and preparation will help make sure your outing a successful one.

Northern Light Sports Health is here to help you not only stay healthy but recover quickly if you do get injured. No matter your age or ability, whenever an injury or illness occurs, we provide complete evaluation and care - fast. We’ll work with you to create a plan that gets you back to the activities you want to do, and to recover safely.

Learn more at: Sports Health - Northern Light Health.