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Sport Specific Injuries: Fishing

By Alan Williams, PT, OTR/L, ATC, CSCS

My earliest memories of fishing are when my father used to take me to Deadwood Reservoir in the late 1950s. We would drive from our Canyon County farm in a ’56 GMC pickup truck that we called “Old Whitey,” pulling a Kenskill trailer behind us. I remember feeling that it took FOREVER to get there, and I was sure I’d be dead before we arrived. But when we finally reached Deadwood and got to break out the poles, it was all worth it. We never really caught anything special, but I was spending time with my dad, and those are memories I will cherish forever.

Recreational fishing (especially angling) is one of the most popular activities in the world, but as with other sports, it’s not without its risks. Most anglers are careful to avoid the obvious and most dramatic of fishing dangers (dehydration, hooking a finger, boat motor fires, accidental drowning, etc.). However, if you want to keep yourself in top fishing shape, you also have to protect yourself from more mundane fishing hazards – overuse injuries.

As the name plainly states, overuse injuries are caused by too many uninterrupted repetitions of an action. The body parts involved become fatigued to the point of injury; this effect is intensified if the repeated action requires awkward or unnatural movements, such as is sometimes seen in bowling or pitching a baseball. Overuse injuries are notoriously stubborn to cure – but then again, it’s often those with the injuries that are stubborn. Because you must treat an overuse injury with rest (which means taking a sometimes lengthy break from the beloved activity that cause the injury in the first place), many people make the mistake of returning to activity before their injury is fully healed, creating a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break.

Angling provides the perfect conditions for an overuse injury thanks to the repetitive movements of casting coupled with the bad body mechanics that are common to so many people. As is often said, prevention is the best medicine. With a few simple tweaks, you can help stop overuse injuries from ruining your fishing trips.

Although it might sound silly, you should prepare in advance of a fishing trip the way you would for other athletic events. Keeping yourself in good physical condition will give you the endurance you need for long fishing sessions, and you will be less plagued by the aches and pains that can make your trip less enjoyable. Besides eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly, you should include stretching and strengthening exercises specifically geared for the muscles you will use during angling – your abdominals, back, and upper body.

Because fishing trips are often all-day affairs, it’s important to change up your activity. Alternate sitting and standing – but do both with good posture – to avoid unnecessary stress on your back and feet. Switch your grip and casting style throughout the day so no one motion or position is repeated excessively (and as an added bonus, this will help you master a diversity of fishing styles). And perhaps most important of all, take breaks to rest, even if you don’t feel tired. Remember that most people don’t realize they are developing an overuse injury until it’s too late.

Lastly, be realistic about your abilities. Seek coaching to fix any bad body mechanics you may have during casting. Shooting heads and sinking weights put extra strain on the wrists, elbows, and shoulders of anglers who aren’t adept at their use, so avoid them for all but short periods of time if you fall into this category. In addition, using heavy or long rods, longer lines, and fishing for heavy fish should all be engaged in sparingly unless you are expert enough to do so correctly.

Fishing memories can last a lifetime, so don’t let an overuse injury keep you from enjoying the water with your friends and family.

Don’t let pain keep you away from the water. Call 463-0022 today for your FREE Pain Assessment!