Feb 28, 2021

The Most Common Surfer Related Injuries and When to Seek Treatment

If you’re a surfer, you know all about the obvious injuries. You’re at high risk of bashing your head or other parts of your body and cutting yourself on fins or reefs or rocks. These may result in severe lacerations, eye injuries and concussion.

But what about the injuries and conditions that affect your body’s function? From muscle strain to shoulder pain and from tweaked backs to ankle injuries, surfing can impact your musculoskeletal system pretty badly – whether you’re a pro or just an occasional surfer.

Surfer Related Injuries

That’s why warming up and building up flexibility and strength are key before you jump in the water. Just as we’re warned to physically prepare for a snowboarding or skiing trip, we need to ensure we protect against muscle and joint injuries oi the water.

If you have sustained an injury through surfing, it’s important to get a specialist diagnosis before you embark on any treatment. Whether it’s a niggling pain that inhibits your full range of movement, or a debilitating injury, the expert sports medicine team at Capital Orthopaedics offers fast, effective diagnosis and treatment to get you back on your feet (on your board).

Contact us here to book an appointment.

Common surfing-related injuries

Shoulder Impingement

This is one of the most common joint injuries to affect surfers.

What is shoulder impingement?

Your shoulder is a highly mobile joint that is powered and stabilised by a tube of muscles and tendons known as the rotator cuff. Tendons can get swollen or inflamed and become trapped or pinched between other structures in your shoulder, causing pain and potentially leading to other problems such as rotator cuff tears.

What causes shoulder impingement in surfers?

In surfers, the specific muscles used in paddling get overdeveloped in comparison to the other muscles. This can result in swollen and inflamed tendons, which then get pinched between other structures in your shoulder, causing pain and potentially leading to other problems such as rotator cuff tears.

What are the symptoms of shoulder impingement?

  • Pain when extending your arm in front, over your head or reaching behind your back
  • Pain and tenderness in the front of your shoulder
  • Weakness in your shoulder or arm
  • Stiffness in your shoulder

Treatment for Shoulder Impingement

Impingement can usually be successfully treated with physiotherapy and anti-inflammatories. For ongoing problems, you may be offered steroid and/or cellular injections to reduce inflammation and promote healing. In rare cases, you may need arthroscopic surgery to resolve the issue.

Back Sprains & Strains

Paddling in a prone position can wreak havoc, especially on your lower back. Twisting actions can also put strain on the muscles and structures of your back. In some cases, there may be problems other than muscle strain, such as a slipped disc, fractured vertebra or trapped nerves – so it’s important to get a careful diagnosis from a sports medicine professional before you embark on treatment.

What causes back pain in surfers?

  • Extended periods spent in a prone position (paddling)
  • Too much lumbar (lower back) extension or mobility
  • Explosive turning and twisting movements
  • Poor core stability
  • Poor technique during the “pop up” from paddling to surfing

Treatment for Back Sprains & Strains

The best way to resolve most back pain is through physiotherapy to improve your core strength and support your lower back, as well as developing strength and flexibility in the upper back. Anti-inflammatories can also help with the initial stages of recovery.

Hip flexor strain

When you are surfing, your hip naturally rotates toward the back foot, putting a strain on the hip flexor tendon at the front of your pelvis. The ‘pop up’ action can make this more painful.

What are the symptoms of hip flexor strain?

  • Pain that increases as you lift your knee towards your chest
  • Pain when stretching hip muscles
  • Muscle spasms at your hip or thigh
  • Swelling or bruising at the front of your hip or thigh

Treatment for a hip flexor strain

Anti-inflammatories and rest, followed by physiotherapy are usually the most effective way to resolve hip flexor strain. Exercises involve gentle stretches to improve flexibility and reduce the chance of re-injury. In rare cases, there may be a tear in the tendon or the muscle, which may have to be resolved with surgery.

Ankle stiffness (hypomobility)

Particularly common in surfers, this inability to squat deep into your turns is often caused by old injuries such as an ankle sprain, fracture or surgery. The ligaments and tendons around your ankle can get tighter as a result of scar tissue building up. Ankle stiffness can lead to other problems such as torn tendons or tendonitis.

Treatment for Ankle stiffness

Ankle stiffness can usually be effectively treated with physiotherapy to gently stretch the supporting structures around the joint and build up muscle strength to prevent further injuries.

Marlon Lipke is the current European Surfing Champion and the first German to compete on the ASP World Tour. Like all pro surfers, his workout regime focuses on protecting him from injury and improving performance. He talked to German Men’s Health about his exercises. The most important area is strengthening the core – not just for the control of balancing on a board, but to protect his lower back. He also focuses on strengthening the muscles around his shoulders – particularly exercises such as underhand pullups, which help to counteract the imbalance that can lead to rotator cuff problems and shoulder impingement. Leg strengthening exercises, along with hip stretches help to prevent hip and ankle injuries.

How Capital Orthopaedics Can Help

Our team of consultant orthopaedic surgeons and sports medicine professionals will ensure a thorough diagnosis of your surfing injuries, using the very latest scanning equipment. Our highly experienced physiotherapists will provide targeted treatments, injection therapy and exercise programmes to help you recover and build long-term resilience against future injuries. Should you require surgery, our team of consultants use the least invasive techniques with the quickest recovery times.

To book your appointment, contact Capital Orthopaedics here.

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