How the Gamut Paddle Holder Kept Me Kayaking Despite Having Tennis Elbow
As a kayaker, I was concerned when my tennis elbow flare-up became so severe that I couldn't use my regular paddle without experiencing significant pain. I was in so much discomfort that even the simplest of tasks, like unscrewing a jar or pumping lotion from a bottle, caused me to wince in distress.
My injury was caused by the seemingly harmless activity of using a weed whacker for an hour to clean up my front and back yard. Our lawn mower had gone kaput after two years of neglect during California’s years-long drought. This year’s heavy rains, however, brought the yard back to life, albeit mostly with giant invasive weeds, including thistles, Creeping Charlie and Spotted Spurge.
It turns out that just holding the “trigger” of the whacker in a prolonged compressed position, along with the weight of it straining on my forearm for that hour, was enough to keep me in unremitting pain for going on three weeks. The bony lump on the outside of my elbow was extremely tender to the touch, and I couldn’t straighten my arm all the way or rotate it internally without excruciating pain. Worse yet, every time I did an activity that engaged my fingers and required the slightest forearm strength, I recoiled in distress. Even grasping the handle of my big coffee cup could make me flinch.
What Is Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a painful condition caused by the inflammation of the tendons that attach to the lateral epicondyle bone on the outer part of the elbow. This inflammation can be caused by repetitive motions, such as those used in sports like tennis, or by everyday activities like using a computer mouse or holding a tool for an extended period.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, tennis elbow affects about 1-3% of the general population, with most cases occurring in people between the ages of 30-50 years old. However, anyone who engages in activities that require repetitive arm and wrist movements is at risk of developing tennis elbow.
Elbow Pain When Kayaking with a Regular Paddle
When I first went kayaking using my regular paddle, I had to come back ashore within 10 minutes due to the acute pain in my elbow. The mechanics of using a straight, unsupported paddle were just too rough on it. One reason is that I couldn’t fully straighten my right arm. It could get to about 165 degrees before the pain would take over. I noticed this most during the turn phase of my sweep stroke as I engaged the right blade in the water and pulled it back to turn my kayak. Even though I wasn’t straightening my arm all the way, the motion caused the elbow to ache.
The other issue arose in combination with the power phase of the forward stroke. I found gripping the shaft with my right hand and engaging my forearm muscles to pull the blade through the water created that same type of pain I got when squeezing a bottle or pulling open a door handle. Even when I put more of my core into the stroke, the pain was just too much.
In the words of Alanis Morissette, “Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think” that I happen to own a business that manufactures adaptive kayaking equipment? It’s no surprise, then, that a few days later I took our Gamut Paddle Holder system out for a spin to see if it would alleviate my pain.
The Gamut Redistributes the Energy Required in Each Stroke
With the Gamut, I was successfully able to kayak without experiencing any pain in my elbow. The mounted paddle holder took the weight and strain off my forearms, relieving the stress on my elbow joint and allowing me to redistribute the energy needed to power my stroke.
Instead of gripping the paddle shaft as firmly as I would with a regular paddle, I could grip it loosely and use more of a push-pull motion with the paddle that was being held between the Gamut’s two roller grips. This made it possible for me to engage my stronger (left) side to push forward, rather than relying equally on my injured arm on the right side to pull back. I could also avoid straightening my right arm out on the sweep stroke by powering the stroke more with left arm pushing forward, and this significantly reduced the pain I had been experiencing as well.
The Gamut Paddle Holder was an excellent option for me, and I'd highly recommend it to other kayakers dealing with tennis elbow. Additionally, if you have a shoulder injury, the Versa Paddle System is another great option to consider. With Versa’s blades angled downward on each side, the elbows can remain bent and close to the torso, eliminating the need to raise the arms up to shoulder height with each alternating stroke. In fact, that same push-pull motion negates the need for any torso rotation at all. The paddler remains very stable in the center of the kayak with each stroke because the paddle is perfectly balanced on the center fulcrum of the mount. Combined, these features reduce stress on torso and all the major joints of the upper body.
Treatment Options for Tennis Elbow
Fortunately, I’m not too concerned about the prognosis of my tennis elbow. (My rotator cuff surgery is a different story!) Treatment options for tennis elbow range from conservative measures to more invasive procedures.
Conservative measures include rest, ice and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce pain and swelling. Physical therapy may also be helpful to stretch and strengthen the muscles and tendons in the affected area. In some cases, a brace or splint may be recommended to immobilize the joint and allow it to heal.
If these measures don’t provide relief, more invasive treatments such as corticosteroid injections or surgery may be recommended. However, these treatments are generally reserved for severe cases of tennis elbow that do not respond to other therapies.
The bottom line is, if you're a kayaker struggling with tennis elbow, don't despair. The Gamut Paddle Holder and Versa Paddle systems are excellent alternatives for kayakers who want to continue their favorite activity without exacerbating their injury. Give them a try and see how much of a difference they can make for you.