I had my fourth shoulder surgery in August of 2013. The repetitive motion of overhand activities, primarily baseball and softball, caused the three previous injuries. I never gave a second thought to fishing and casting as the potential cause of a shoulder injuries until injury number four occurred. I was on the Potomac chucking a frog where a bass had just blown up on the surface. I needed to give the cast a little extra oomph to reach the spot. I felt my shoulder give-way and immediately knew what happened. The impending surgery and recovery were successful; however, I lost a year of fishing in the process. I thought I’d offer some insights and suggestions regarding preventing fishing shoulder injuries to help other anglers avoid the fun-n-games I went through.
Preventing Fishing Shoulder Injuries – What To Watch For
Preventing fishing shoulder injuries can be centered around the rotator cuff (RC). Rotator cuff tears are one of the most common shoulder injuries. In fact, tears to a RC can occur by sleeping on a side. The most common cause of a RC injury is repetitive overhand motions like throwing a ball, lifting above the head, or casting. Think about the last item for a second. It’s not uncommon to make 1500 casts in one day of fishing. If the crankbait or spinnerbait bite is on, it could quickly approach 2000. Couple the weight of a fishing rig with the torque a rod generates during the casting motion, and it’s a formula for disaster if careless. Adding a super heavy or complex bait into the mix, like an Alabama rig, anglers start living on the edge when it comes to shoulder injuries. The point here is fishing puts a ton of stress on the shoulders.
I made some changes to my casting technique after this last injury. First of all, I learned how to cast left-handed (a major deal for me – I am anything but ambidextrous). Secondly, I learned how to use the rod tip to generate more distance when pitching or flipping. Finally, I kept my upper arms close against my upper torso when overhand casting. Keeping elbows close to the body prevents anglers from using their arms and shoulders and forces the rod do the work. Combined these changes allowed me to fish regularly, mostly pain-free, while I waited for the surgery. The little aches and pains after an outing were managed with over-the-counter pain relievers.
The one piece I could never quite manage effectively was missed hooksets. I don’t get cheated on hooksets, and they are a fact of life when it comes to fishing. I tended to set the hook primarily with my arms instead of letting the rod do the work. It should have been intuitively obvious since I was already bracing my arms against my torso during a cast. I should’ve recognized this same principle applied to a hookset. They simply didn’t make enough ibuprofen for the pain I was feeling.
Here are a few tips every angler, weekend fisherman and tournament professional alike can apply to help protect shoulders and [hopefully] prevent a similar injury. These tips and lessons also apply to young anglers as much as older fisherman and women. Like my father always said, “An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.”
Preventing Fishing Shoulder Injuries Check List
- Let the rod do the work. Our arms can never generate as much torque as a fishing rod. The rod is way more efficient at taking up the slack line on hooksets than any pair of arms could ever be. Use the tools.
- Learn how to cast, pitch, and flip with a non-dominant hand. Make this a practice priority during the winter. Alternate sides when fishing a tournament or when out for a day of fun or practice. Utilizing both the dominate and non-dominant arm is good for the shoulders; it also helps if fishing as a co-angler. Being able to use both arms interchangeably will allow anglers to cast to any target, from any side or angle.
- Review line options. A line with less stretch means anglers have to do less work with their arms and the rod. In those presentations when it is a must to use hi-stretch lines like monofilament, remember to let the rod do the work.
- If aches and pains in shoulders from wear-n-tear already exist, pre-medicate before a tournament or practice. Take a pain reliever with breakfast. Stay on top of pain management with additional doses throughout the day. Don’t wait until it starts hurting to take medication. If the label on the bottle says it’s good for 6-8 hours of relief, plan accordingly. Repeat as required to get through the outing. Disclaimer – read the directions on all medications and speak with a doctor before using any over-the-counter drug.
- Ice is a friend. A few minutes of icing can go a long way for pain management. Keep some quart or gallon plastic bags on board and use them as ice packs.
- A simple, focused exercise regime involving light weights and lots of repetitions does wonders to strengthen shoulders and arms, enabling better endurance through the stresses of casting. Anglers don’t need fancy equipment for many of these exercises. A 5-pound dumbbell and a length of rubber tubing will achieve significant strength improvements. A quick search on the internet will provide a wealth of strengthening exercises. Stretching should also be a component of any routine.
The ‘so what’ of this is probably best explained by using my rehabilitation timeline from my casting injury as an example. I was in a sling for 12 weeks while the repairs healed. I started rehabilitation in the 3rd week, working a set of passive range of motion drills to regain movement. This phase lasted seven weeks. After I had regained full range of motion, I started doing passive (isometric) strength building exercises. This period lasted six weeks. I then progressed into active muscle building exercises. It was a year before my shoulder returned to a level close to what I enjoyed before the surgery (age had a little to do with the length of the recovery, but mostly it was driven by the severity of the injury). Physical therapists tell me my pre-surgery exercise routine (I always have and still exercise daily) was a huge enabler during the rehabilitation process. My total recovery time was about a year, whereas someone who doesn’t exercise regularly can expect upwards of 18 months for full recovery.
Look around among fishing friends and the professional anglers, an RC tear is so common it’s easy to find someone who has been through this ordeal. Preventing shoulder injuries is much easier than recovering from them. A few simple adjustments to technique and equipment can save lots of wear-n-tear. Use the tools and let them do the work. Incorporate some simple exercises into a daily schedule to help prepare for the rigors of fishing. Use the ounce of prevention liberally!
See you on the water!