January 12, 2016

Shoulder Update

By Doug
The current issue of NA's excellent The Laser Sailor has a report on page 18 about how "Ed Adams was having one of his rock solid, consistent days when he had to retire from the last two races of the day due to a rotator cuff issue in his shoulder. One thing about being a Master sailor is bodies and boats do on occasion need maintenance."

I too have rotator cuff issues, partly because of something I was born with and partly because of the wear and tear (literally) from sailing Lasers.

This type of injury is strange because the pain can develop over time and it's sometimes hard to know how the tear started. I'm pretty sure that it was from rounding a bottom mark, grabbing my cunningham, and pulling it by leaning back as hard as I could. My left shoulder has never been strong so pulling like this for a breezy upwind leg was asking for trouble.

About two years ago, an MRI revealed a partial tear and surgery was scheduled. I was not looking forward to the 6 month recovery time that other Laser sailors had described. Enter Pam and her amazing research skills. She discovered a non-surgical treatment that we shared and, sure enough, my shoulder improved to the point where it no longer bothers me.

Here's my "maintenance" program to prevent re-injury:
  • I've eliminated dips from my exercise routine as this is really hard on my rotator cuffs (not me in the picture, wish it was).

  • I keep my arm bent and flexed when pulling hard on a control.
Update: there was another thing that I had learned about how to release a cunningham with more purchase that protects your shoulder but I checked with Jean-Luc, our Chief Measurer, and he says that is was not permitted under Laser rule 3 (b) x.
My left shoulder has recovered 100% without the need for surgery. And I still religiously go though my stretching routine before each sail. It's very cheap insurance.


  1. I dunno, as I use my legs to get the cunningham on, so there's no strain on the shoulder at all with that technique. Legs are stronger than arms, so it works well enough for me. The real hassle I have is uncleating the vang when I have the boom down on the deck. There is so much pressure on and I've hurt my forearm and wrist in getting it undone sometimes. Any tips for me there?

    1. Interesting... for me, all the strength in my legs still has to go through my shoulder and arm. I find that bending my arm a little when I pull flexes the muscles that seems to take the pressure off my shoulder joint.

      Releasing the vang can be tough unless you lean forward and pull sharply up. But then these awkward movements can also lead to injury, so be careful.


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