Shoulder tendonitis/dislocation issues for Alpackas...

Hi folks,

I’m extremely curious as to who has experienced shoulder pain or problems while or after paddling Alpacka rafts? I’ve been extremely careful to take good care of my shoulders, especially after watching all of my kayaking buddies dislocate theirs over the years from bad form/paddling posture. I’ve always been able to keep my hands and shoulders low while kayaking, but the packraft has created a new challenge. Every time I’ve paddled the Alpacka my shoulders have been very sore towards the end of the run & a few days afterwards. Last September (after a day of teaching an APU packrafting class on Granite Creek), I woke up screaming, frozen solid, and could not move my shoulder or body a single inch. For 2 hours I didn’t move from the extremely sharp pain, thinking I had dislocated my shoulder. I didn’t, but my paddling has been hindered severly, and now to the point of not paddling at all anymore. After 3.5 months of visiting the chiropractor (3 times a week), an MRI, x-rays, doctor visits, and physcial therapy, they determined that my injury happened because I was paddling with my hands, arms, and shoulders too high. They determined that paddling too high (with paddle close to the height of your chest) causes the ball & socket joint bone in your shoulder to rub on the rotator cuff tendon and slowly wear the muscle fibers away, cutting them with each new stroke.

In a packraft, I have to paddle like this because the tubes are so large there is no way to reach the water without a slightly elevated paddling position. This explains why I could kayak hard all day & feel no pain, then pack raft a few hours and feel lots of pain. I’m really bummed because I missed out on a great deal of “end of season” paddling, will be missing out on high water in the southeastern USA over x-mas holidays, and might not be able to paddle in New Zealand this February (which was supposed to be strictly a paddling trip:^(

My concern is that this could possibly be happening to other packrafters out there without them even realizing it until it’s too late, winding up with a very angry tendon that refuses to boat any longer until months of healing or possible surgery. I feel an easy solution to this problem would be to make new seats for the packraft that sit the boater another 2-3 inches higher in the packraft, increasing leverage & power, while eliminating the dangerous & destructive position of sitting too low in a boat. Wondering what peoples thoughts are and if anyone else is experiencing shoulder issues?

I can confirm that (in my time working for Alpacka) this is the first time I’ve heard of this, and Sheri’s never mentioned hearing of it to me, either.

There’s actually a seat elevating option already: the Explorer Seat. It can be installed on top of the existing seat, providing a lift. Not sure how it would be w/ a modified-forward seat, since I haven’t seen one of those yet.

alaskacreeker wrote:
I’m extremely curious as to who has experienced shoulder pain or problems while or after paddling Alpacka rafts? I’ve been extremely careful to take good care of my shoulders, especially after watching all of my kayaking buddies dislocate theirs over the years from bad form/paddling posture.

I have had a shoulder dislocation but it was from a freak fall on concrete two years ago in another sport. But I did injure my upper back three years ago whilst paddling my Alpacka. This kept me off the water for several months. But it was defintely not due to the packraft, nor to the length of the paddle I was using: just me stupidly not warming up and then trying to do what I would call a series of boofs on flatishwater (sort of trying to fly over the waves which would definitely have improved with knee braces!) into a very strong wind off the Irish Sea. The upper back is a difficult part to injure apparently. :blush:

But I sympathise with your shoulder problems. The shoulder takes a long time to heal even if not dislocated. I came across this in the last week, which is interesting:

“…the arms are lifted by pulling the back muscles down, not by lifting the shoulders up. The rhomboids, the muscles that pull the shoulder blades to the centre of the back, should engage to keep the shoulders back, not hunched forward.”

And I’ve found that my ongoing shoulder problems have eased slightly just being aware of engaging my back muscles. Just adding the above for general info. Injuries suck. Hope you’re paddling soon.

I think that given the history and experience of, and with Alpacka’s, and of those whom paddle them, that had shoulder issues of this nature been linked to the hull type and seat configuration, it would have become apparent very quickly.

When I was buying my Llama, because I have preexisting spine, hip and knee injuries, we discussed seat support and the use of the Explorer seat.

I bought the Explorer seat (with a Dory/Explorer) and the Insulmat pad which raises seat height, provides rigidity and insulation.

On every Forum where I’ve seen Alpacka Rafts discussed, no injury, let alone one even remotely similar to yours has ever been brought up.

yup, i got shoulder problems. came during a few months hard packrafting and mixed athletics last summer (climbing, canoing, drunk wrestling). at first it was just a little ache, and i kept on using it, then constant dull ache, then sharp pain, until i couldn’t sleep at night and couldn’t do anything, including drive with that arm. physical therapist called it a combination of: tendinitis, impingement, adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder), scapular dysfunction (one scapula flared out), and pectoralis minor tightness. spent 3 months in PT, was better for a while, but it is still a problem. sucks. the cause was definitely from packrafting. interesting to hear about your injury and the seat theory. on longer flat water days i often end up sitting on the back tube for relief when i’m tired (but i do like the lower center of gravity on busier water). seems feasible to me, though I was definitely overdoing it and not resting when I should have. hope your recovery goes better than mine…

sd and ac, you guys reckon the problems go back to muscle imbalance? Back when I was a serious climber, I had two friends that needed rotator cuff reconstruction before they were 21.


Thanks for posting, shoutdiggity. I remember talking about your shoulder, but I didn’t realize it was from paddling. Did the doc have any specific observations on the ergonomics?

Sorry to hear that shoutdiggity. Sounds like you have exactly what I have going on. It never bothered me in 12 years of kayaking, but the within the first 2 months of pack rafting it got to the point where I just about wanted to puke it would hurt so bad at the end of the run, just sick to my stomuch from the shoulder pain. The did an MRI on my neck (my chiropractor was convinced it was a pinched nerve on my c5/c6 disk as the MRI stated), but I don’t feel like it’s that at all. They gave me a cortisone shot and started me on physical therapy. The shot didn’t work (made it worse) for about 8 days, then it started to feel WAY better. I was pain free (nearly) for about 3 days, and now it started back to where it hurts 24/7, even when not in use it’s a dull ache. Guess the cortisone is done doing it’s thing. I’ve stopped P.T. because I feel like it aggitates the problem more. I’m going to have an MRI on my shoulder when I get back to see what the hell is going on.
I remember after it started hurting I would go kayaking and it wouldn’t hurt at all, but after pack rafting it would just kill me. It definitely has something to do with sitting too low in the seat and having to reach up high over the tubes. It’s gonna just kill me inside if it doesn’t begin heal within another month because the New Zealand paddling trip is coming up in February & the ticket is non-refundable:^( I’ll let you know if I solve the odd “kayaker-gone-packrafter-sometimes” shoulder issue because it doesn’t seem to be happening to other packrafters?

not really sure what conclusions i can draw about my shoulder. i did have an xray and an mri, neither of which turned up much. PT did help me alot, most of which was focused on strenthening my trapezious muscle, and stretching my pectoralis minor. Before visiting the doc, I took a month and went ice fishing for fun, and the shoulder only got worse while i wasn’t moving it at all, thanks to the adhesive capsulitis i think. the therapist i saw figured that i overworked it or strained something, and one thing led to another, all of them making the others worse. i spent the summer more or less back in action, though on longer or tougher days paddling the shoulder bugged me, and i took it easy when it got painful. i thought i was doing good, but then this fall i went back to school, and now sitting on my ass all day at a keyboard or book, my shoulder is bugging me again–dull ache, and my shoulder always feels off–not sure if it is my imagination or not, but i always feel my left scapula flared out at the bottom.

thanks for the info AC, let me know how it goes. question: i know alot of packrafters use longer paddles. could using a shorter paddle be related? seems like I noticed the paddle you had for sale a while back was quite a bit shorter than what many use. i think i have the 210 sheri sells.

I paddled yesterday for a few hours on flat water, against headwind and against the tide with my 197 cm and got a sore shoulder. First time ever and I have been paddling for a while now…

Not good Roman… rest that thing, stretch it out as much as possible, get some heat/ice on it, and get some ibebroken running through your veins & maybe you won’t wind up like me. I think the seating issue in these boats needs to be addressed urgently before more people begin to become injured after whitewater paddling. When paddling more difficult whitewater in these packrafts, harder strokes and more body rotation is happening than packrafting normal easy rivers. I believe this is why the problem is beginning to rear it’s face in the packrafting community.

maybe but i think the short paddle is the culprit. i’m gonna try my old long 215 cm again and test shoutdiggity’s hypothesis

Although I haven’t had PR shoulder problems, I had a bunch of various pains etc. up there related to firefighting & working a lot on computers. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of re-mobilizing & re-enervation stuff that’s helped my shoulders quite a bit (much of it from a Russian art called Systema, if anyone’s heard of it.)

  • :arrow_right: Shoulder rolls. Self Explanatory.
    :arrow_right: Neck rolls. Same thing; that whole assembly is closely linked.
    :arrow_right: Independent shoulder rolls - each separate to “delink” their tension from each other.
    :arrow_right: Practicing “breathing into” my shoulders, like I’m massaging them with my breath.
    :arrow_right: Lying on a tennis ball or golf ball, working the shoulder & arms, focusing on relaxing while doing so.
    :arrow_right: Strength balancing (yoga, calisthenics, whatever)
    :arrow_right: Generally stretching the shoulder, neck, arms, chest & back.

The second-to-last one can get pretty intense; where it seems to do me the most good is when I do it so it’s intense, but not so intense I can’t get to the point where I “choose to relax.” The key for me seems to be to activate the neurological tension patterns, then change them under stress, so things start rewriting themselves in my body.

The nice thing about the breathing one is I can do it anywhere, anytime.

Not sure if this will help anyone else, but it’s help me drop a bunch of latent tension out of my movements (read: "still carrying a pack and chainsaw, even though it’s not there anymore), and that’s helped me be active without tearing up myself so much.

General Beta from Alpacka: I wanted to provide some info on what Alpacka Raft is seeing. So far, evidence Alpacka has suggests that shoulder problems like this have been an isolated thing among a few boaters. For the vast majority of packrafters, shoulder injury doesn’t appear to be a problem, at least not reported in any way to Alpacka. The best evidence suggests such injury is related to the some set of factors affecting a small proportion of the more intense boaters. What those factors are is definitely something Alpacka’s watching.

Variables to consider certainly seem to include:

  • :arrow_right: Length of Paddle
    :arrow_right: Paddling Style
    :arrow_right: Individual arm length, height
    :arrow_right: Individual body mechanics & mobility
    :arrow_right: Paddling intensity & duration
    :arrow_right: Special factors (ex: whitewater, etc.)
    :arrow_right: Boat layout (seat height, beam, etc.).

Give a shout if you can think of more variables.

Tim - For boaters who would benefit from a higher seat, Sheri’s always offered the Dory/Explorer seat separately, which adds lift. I absolutely agree some boaters benefit from it, and I think AeroNautiCal gives a great testimony for why it’s not just for (possibly) shorter-paddle whitewater runners. The idea behind having it separate is so that boaters can choose what they’d like, instead of “one size fits all.” Forgive me if I’m missing something, but it looks to me like the “seating issue that needs to be addressed urgently” you mention already has been addressed.

Not to again be the naysayer, but I’d be wondering if this might have a lot to do with being strapped in the boat? Once that evolution began to take place, you could now effectively put all sorts of stress on to your body. Sure you might have more power with straps, but you better also have the technique, unique to the craft, so as to avoid these added stresses.

Wasup JD. Actually, my injury happened the 2nd time I ever paddled a pack raft and the pack raft didn’t have thigh braces (or I hadn’t been in a packraft with thigh braces before I injured my shoulder). New Zealands been good, but might have to take it easy soon on my shoulder, it feels pretty tired after just one good day of boating (pack rafting w/ Roman on the Arahura)

Most people in nearly every sport, or otherwise, experience these types of injuries. Some are as Tim is explaining, caused by an exterior force/ element, some are the bodies natural way of dejenerating. Either way, I recommend push ups, dips, ab workouts, hyper extensions, yoga/ stretching, and high rep. weight training. I have been involved in some of the most viscous sports known, have had multiple broken bones, eleven bone dislocations,contusions galore, you name it. I have been in multiple casts and had a $60,000 surgery, I,m not talken crap here. I currently have a torn rotator cuff(4 years old), and could not press a 10lb dumbell for months after I injured it. After my first surgery, I was frightened of the blade and elected to try and rework the remaining tissue,they don’t heal well, so I can’t say heal it. But after thousands of pushups,general common sense training, and suffering, suffering,suffering, I can bench 200 lb 10 times and still am improving. This route sucks, and the pain is nearly unbearable when you work the injury area, surgery is alot faster healing process. I am not trying too one up everyone with war stories, but am just trying to stress, workout hard, and when some of you pepsi drinking 90’s boys are my age you will still be huckin boats with people half your age.
Am I healed-NO, can I boat- hell ya, Do I hurt, yep!!!kinda lets you know your still breathing.