Who wouldn’t love a whole holiday dedicated to nothing but surfing, eating and sleeping?! 10 days on a boat or a secluded spot with friends, waves and solitude. What could possibly go wrong? Fatigue and injury if you’re not physically prepared….. that’s what. Let’s be honest, despite our hopes and best intentions, the everyday surfer probably gets in the water an average of 2 to 3 times per week (if you’re lucky). So what makes us think that our bodies will automatically be conditioned to hit the waves 2 to 3 sessions daily, day after day after day during that long awaited surf trip?
All too often I hear that by day 3 or 4 people start to succumb to fatigue, often leading to some form of overload injury (that’s if the rib soreness hasn’t already stopped you in your tracks!). Now, while the only thing that is going to save you from rib pain is spending more time on the board in the lead up to your trip (or custom made rashes and wetsuits), fatigue and overload injury can be prevented by adding just a few specific exercises to your usual routine in the lead up to your holiday.
In my experience, the areas of the body I most commonly see affected by overload during surfing include the shoulders, neck and lower back. In some cases this is due to a lack of appropriate strength, endurance or mobility, though can sometimes be something as simple as your posture on the board.
Let’s start with the shoulders. Without a doubt, the most common pathology I see here is a sub-acromial impingement. This is a global term used to describe impingement (squashing) of one or more of the rotator cuff tendons, within the subacromial space. This condition frequently occurs in combination with sub-acromial bursitis (inflammation of the bursa). Characteristically it often presents as pain with either overhead movement or putting your hand behind your back. Commonly in surfers this impingement of the humeral head (ball part of the joint) onto the tendons/ bursa occurs due to a muscular imbalance between the front and back of the shoulder. Due to the nature of paddling, many surfers tend to be strong and tight in the muscles at the front of the shoulder (think pecs and anterior deltoid) and comparatively weak and lengthened in the muscles at the back (think teres minor/major and rhomboids). This causes the humeral head to tilt forward in the socket and impinge onto the cuff tendons. It also changes the dynamics of how your shoulder blade moves during paddling. To prevent this occurring, we therefore need to open the front of the chest and shoulders with exercises such as pec stretches, open heart yoga poses and thoracic extension mobility exercises. To improve the strength at the back of the shoulder complex we should look at exercises such as upright row, bent over row or bent over fly style movements.
The next most common area of pain I see with surfing is the neck. In my opinion this has a lot to do with our body positioning on the board during paddling and waiting. Unfortunately to be able to paddle and see what’s in front of us, we require the neck to be in a relative amount of hyperextension, which is not ideal for long periods. While paddling there is a little we can do to avoid this – though I would encourage if you are in for a long paddle, stop every couple of minutes (if you can) and stretch your neck by looking down for 10 seconds, just to ease some of the pressure on the upper neck. Then try to ensure that while you’re waiting in the lineup, if possible, sit on your board instead of lying down. This again gives your neck a chance to rest between paddling. And finally at the end of a session, ensure that you give your neck a good stretch in a forward position again to relieve pressure on the upper neck. If you are a die hard regular surfer, it may be worth checking (or have someone check for you) your everyday neck posture. As with most non-optimal postures, they firstly develop as habits. And if your habit is to sit on a surfboard for a couple of hours each day with your neck in hyperextension, it is quite logical that is where your head and neck will stay for the the rest of the day, and this is definitely not ideal. This could very well lead me into a whole other rant about how strongly our posture can affect our movement and function and so I will leave this for another day!
Lastly let’s discuss the lower back. Again, during paddling, to keep weight off the upper area of the board and improve paddling efficiency, we require extended periods of lower back hyperextension. Yep you guessed it….. this is not ideal for long periods, especially when the majority of us lack the muscular endurance and hip flexibility to maintain an ideal position. This often results in facet joint pain. To overcome this I suggest improving your lumbar spine muscular endurance, as well as ensuring good flexibility through the front of your hips to allow your body to ‘share’ the required positioning. Exercises to improve lumbar spine endurance may include movements such as the yoga ‘Locust’ pose, Pilates ‘swan’ exercise or fit ball ‘roll outs’. Exercises to improve your hip flexor mobility may include forward lunge stretches or the ‘up dog’ yoga pose. You may also like to release the hip flexors using a foam roller or massage ball.
Moral to the story? Prepare! Don’t let that ultimate surf trip result in injury and the rest of your holiday spent watching your mates shred. If you feel you would benefit from a specifically tailored exercise program or are concerned about pain or discomfort during surfing, contact us @ The Physio Shack. If you are looking for more guidance on improving your performance then give our legend Nic Laidlaw from Balanced Studio a call (www.balancedstudio.com.au). Nic is a super talented surfer and extraordinary personal trainer here in Avalon. He will have you surfing fit and performance ready in no time.
Stay tuned for our next blog on tips to improve your surfing performance!