Physical & Recreational Therapists Weigh in on Adaptive Paddling Equipment: It's All About the Angle
Now that the Versa Paddle has been in active circulation for the several years, we’ve learned what features people like best and what they’d like to see down the road. One of the positive comments we’ve heard repeatedly from physical and recreational therapists, individual customers and adaptive paddling program managers is that the ability to use Versa in an angled position has been a critically important design feature. Without the downward angles of roughly 35 degrees in the center of the paddle, they say they would’ve had to turn away certain clients with specific mobility challenges.
We asked them to describe what advantages the angle provided and for what types of injuries or disabilities it is best suited. What follows are the top three benefits they reported.
Three Advantages of an Angled Kayak Paddle
1. It Offers Better Grip & Wrist Positioning
A recreational therapist in a VA-sponsored adaptive paddling program in Washington told us he had tried a different supported kayak paddle for one particular client but that it didn’t work due to his client’s wrist anatomy and limited mobility. To hold a regular straight paddle a person must have reasonable wrist extension and pronation. This man had trouble obtaining a neutral position in his wrists so he was unable to grasp the paddle in its traditional straight position. He was also unable to hold the weight of the paddle due to pain.
The rec therapist ordered one of our Versa Paddles because he believed that by angling the paddle shafts downward, his client could use the slightly angled grip position for his hands and wrists. The result would be similar to having your hands on a steering wheel at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions. In addition, the client would not have to firmly grasp the paddle shaft, but could instead rely on more of a pushing and pulling motion due to the multi-directional rotation of the clevis that supported the paddle at the center angle.
2. Paddling with It Requires A Smaller Range of Motion
Another recreational therapist who works in a Colorado-based rehab hospital contacted us to find out if Versa would be a good fit for her clients. She had one client in mind who had a spinal cord injury that afforded him very limited range of motion of his arms, elbows and shoulders. He had tried to use a supported paddle that pivoted on a post, but he was unable to raise his arms far enough on the right side to stroke the paddle through the water on the left side, and visa versa. He also had difficulty controlling the stroke of the paddle because it tended to wobble too much.
The therapist suggested our Versa Paddle for sit-in kayaks. With his hands on the 10 and 2 o’clock positions, the man’s elbows and arms could remain in a more neutral position at his sides. Instead of having to lift them up above shoulder height with each stroke, he used a small, rotational movement, much like pedaling a bike with your hands, to dig each blade into the water.
This smaller range of movement also means the kayak itself remains more stable since the paddler’s upper body isn’t shifting from side to side like it does with a traditional paddle stroke pattern.
Finally, because Versa attaches to three points on the cockpit (front hinge and two sides) and is so stable, this paddler was able to execute a much more controlled, smooth stroke.
3. It Helps Preserve Function for One-Armed Paddlers
The third benefit of our angled Versa Paddle is its ability to help preserve someone’s existing function. So many of our customers are people with only one functioning limb. They include amputees, people who were born without a complete arm/hand, paddlers who’ve had major rotator cuff surgery, and people who have paralysis on one side due to a stroke, accident or other condition.
When a person relies on one limb for their day-to-day living, work or general enjoyment, the last thing they want to do is paddle in a manner that increases the risk of an overuse injury on their other healthy shoulder or limb. It’s just not worth it.
The downward angle of Versa's shafts means that people with one arm can paddle with their functioning side, keeping their arm lower and closer to their body. This helps ensure minimal stress on the functioning shoulder and its associated tendons and muscular structures. If they're paddling with their right hand, they gently lift the right blade and push it forward, letting the left blade pull backwards in the water. Then, they dip the right blade down into the water and use a low pull to stroke it through the water back towards them while the left blade is out of the water. (See a demo here.)
Paddling Safety + Good Biomechanics = Ideal Adaptive Paddling Scenario
As adaptive paddling programs expand and the concept of adaptive kayaking becomes more mainstream, there will be an increasing emphasis not just on safety, but on the long-term physical well-being of paddlers and the rehabilitative aspects of the sport.
Already, physical therapists, recreational therapists and hospital and community-based programs are integrating activities like adaptive paddling into their clients’ recreational and rehabilitative endeavors. Having a resource such as Angle Oar's Versa Paddle, and the benefits that come with its angled capability, is a game changer for many programs, allowing people who would not otherwise have the chance to get out on the water an opportunity to paddle independently.