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Bow Hunting and Shoulder Pain (Part 2)

Previously: The Problem, Assessment & Rehab

Preventative Maintenance

shoulder injuryIf you’re pain-free (remember, half of us aren’t), you need a preventive maintenance program to stay that way. A trio of medical reports suggests that injury and progressive wear and tear can be hedged with proper shooting technique and improved conditioning:

• According to the research report, Archer’s Shoulder, published by Tokai University, Japan, shoulder pain is an “occupational hazard” of archers, particularly among those who “overextend” their bows. A common problem to be avoided, say the researchers, is reaching too far with the bow arm. Modern archery coaches teach semi-locking, or at least pulling back, the left shoulder toward the socket. No question this shortens the draw length and reduces the power stroke, which explains why so many archers tend to shoot a bow that’s too long for them. But the extra speed isn’t worth the risk.

• Research on 21 “elite-caliber” archers was conducted by Canadians David Mann and Nancy Little (Shoulder Injuries in Archery). The authors identified “extraneous movement” as a common fault leading to injury. Simply put, archers should learn to draw their bows as straight back as possible.

• Ghazi Rayan, MD, author of Archery-Related Injuries of the Hand, Forearm and Elbow, recommends wearing appropriate protective gear and shooting lightweight bows. In addition, proper mechanical release technique can help avoid lower-arm problems. For example, drawing a bow with the fingers extended on some mechanical designs can cause de Quervain’s tenosynovitis; it’s better to gently wrap the fingers around most release designs rather than rigidly extending the fingers.

Rayan also recommends conditioning, particularly for the forearm flexor and deltoid region. In fact, exercises designed to isolate and strengthen the major muscles involved in archery—supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis, biceps, trapezius—are high on the list of researchers and physical therapists alike. Repetitions with a dorsi bar and military press, plus stretching the deltoids with a flexible band, will pay handsome dividends today and years to come.

Incidentally, an excellent training aid designed specifically for conditioning bowhunters is the BOWFIT (888-757-5541; www.bowfit.com). Another slick innovation is an electronic muscle stimulator, which is ideal for severe injuries that require rest and preclude strenuous workouts (the unit’s electronic pulses cause the muscles to contract and relax like “normal” exercise).

Dr. Gibbons, who schedules his hectic work schedule around the archery season each fall, suggests a simple, in-the-field routine for avoiding acute injury. “Avoid drawing a bow cold after sitting motionless for hours,” he says. “Get to your hunting area plenty early, so you can warm up, get the blood flowing and get your body in tune with the elements.” (The BOWFIT is ideal for this; stuff it in your fanny pack.)

Proper practice is a must. Gradually build yourself up during the off-season instead of “cramming” just before the Opener. Start with a comfortable poundage—forget what the scale reads—and slowly graduate toward peak hunting weights. Moreover, never try to make up for lost ground. When fatigue takes over, hang it up for a day or two. Listen to your body.

Consider upgrading your bow. Today’s compound designs are a radical improvement over the harsh-drawing, kicking mules of yesteryear. No wonder Mathews’ Matt McPherson, arguably the leader in compound bow technology, has set his sights on smoother, not necessarily faster, designs.

“Nothing’s more gratifying to me than hearing about someone getting back into archery because of a more [accommodating] bow design,” McPherson says. “Pushing the performance envelope is a never-ending goal, but I really believe the future of our sport is going to revolve around enjoyment. After all, isn’t shooting a bow and watching an arrow fly true supposed to be fun?”

Well said. Funny thing, as the days go by, my shoulder seems to be agreeing more and more ...

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