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  • Meg McCall

Getting Her Life Back: How One Paddler Returned to Kayaking After Major Shoulder Surgery

Ruth Morrow was 44 miles into a one-day, 100-mile bike ride in upstate New York when the unthinkable happened. She was riding in a JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes for her daughter who has Type 1 Diabetes. Another rider came up on her left side, and as they chatted, Ruth's wheel went off the uneven road which had a 5-inch drop. Her tire struck the wrong way and sent her flying over her handlebars. She landed squarely on her left shoulder, shattering the top of her humerus bone and impacting it so forcefully that it flipped upside down.

Kayaking with a torn rotator cuff and broken humerus

“I utterly demolished my shoulder. I didn’t just break my humerus, the accident obliterated the muscles and tendons of my rotator cuff and other ligaments in the area,” says Ruth. Her fundraising efforts cut short, she was immediately scheduled for surgery, and by the next day she was pieced back together with a plate and pins.

Shoulder Trauma: A Long Road to Recovery

“That was September 2019, and it was a very long recovery process,” she notes. “Everything was impacted -- abduction and adduction movement, raising my arm higher than my waist, and trying to turn my arm were all problematic. It took a real toll on the muscle structures of my shoulder, which are one of the most difficult things to heal.”

Ruth, who lives just outside of Albany, New York, has always been athletic. At 60 years old she wasn’t ready to quit doing the activities she loved, like kayaking. Just last year she had picked up a 14-foot Venture Easky kayak to use on overnight trips. “It had good storage in front and back, and I could portage with it pretty easily.”

Best kayak paddle for shoulder injuries

Under normal circumstances, Ruth likes to “drop in and tool around on the lakes and tributaries of the Adirondacks” and explore the waterways of the nearby Hudson River. But with her arm and shoulder still a long way from being where it once was, she faced the very real possibility that her kayaking days might be over, at least for the foreseeable future.

Discovery: A Kayak Paddle for People with Shoulder Injuries

That’s when, out of curiosity, she did a Google search for “kayak shoulder injury” and stumbled upon Angle Oar’s adaptive paddling equipment. She discovered the Versa Paddle and reached out to us to ask if others had used it to kayak after shoulder surgery and whether it might reduce or eliminate her shoulder pain and sore kayak muscles after kayaking. After a couple of emails back and forth discussing how our mounted paddle holder would work with her kayak, she placed an order in late June. On July 3, she had a chance to try it out for the first time.

Pain-free Paddling After Rotator Cuff Surgery

Ruth says her maiden voyage using Versa was a success. “I was out for about an hour. At first, I tried using Versa in the angled position, but there were a lot of lily pads and seaweed where we were paddling, and the blades kind of got gunked up.” Once she locked Versa into straight mode, however, “it was just perfect,” she says. “I could still feel the tendon in my shoulder slowly move back and forth, but there was no pain. Normally, if I lift my shoulder, I’ll hearing popping and experience some pain, but there wasn’t any of that.”

She said that having the hinged kayak mount support the weight of the paddle and not having to lift her arm up above her waist to dig the paddle into the water made all the difference. “The paddle worked great, and I even got a compliment on how cool it was! I can see how, even if you haven’t experienced rotator cuff pain or had shoulder surgery but you’re just getting a little tired from paddling, that Versa gives you a good alternative. I may end up using it even after I’m healed.”

kayak paddle for kayaking with shoulder pain

Ruth explained that her hope for this season is to “drop in and paddle along the sides of the Hudson and still have enough strength to get back upstream after I turn around. I’m not going to try and fight with the currents; the ability to paddle casually right now is all I need.”

That sounds like a perfectly reasonable goal for someone whose body has experienced such a traumatic shoulder injury and is getting back into using kayaking muscles. We wish Ruth continued recovery, sound health and, of course, good paddling!

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