Physical Therapists Have a New Way to Keep Clients Active: Adaptive Padding
As a physical therapist I am always seeking therapies, equipment and opportunities that will improve my clients’ physical and emotional well-being. I also happen to be an avid kayaker, so it was doubly exciting when a few years ago I learned about a new supported kayak paddle that would allow individuals with weakness, pain, paralysis or limited function to paddle independently, in an energy-efficient manner.
The paddle, called Versa, is manufactured by Angle Oar, and it has changed the lives of several of my clients! The paddle is supported on a base mount that is attached to the cockpit of the kayak. It rests upon a pivot and can be used straight, however the real benefit comes when both blades are angled downward to 30-degree position. This allows the kayaker to rest their arms comfortably at their sides instead of lifting the paddle above shoulder height on one side in order to make the blade come into contact with the water on the other side. High level quadriplegics with minimal shoulder strength and even the slightest amount of tenodesis are able to kayak. Versa can be used by paddlers where one side of the body is impaired, for example, from a Cerebrolvascular Accident (CVA), brain injury or cerebral palsy. In these cases, the uninvolved arm can paddle and maneuver the kayak smoothly and with little effort, or both arms can be used, offering range of motion and strength-building opportunities for the weaker side. Because the wrists and hands are positioned in a neutral position with elbows down (very much like holding a steering wheel at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions), the effort required to paddle is minimal, resulting in less stress and strain to all upper extremity joints. As the kayaker becomes more familiar with the paddle’s functionality, their strength and coordination increase, and Versa can be adjusted into a straight paddle. The paddle is still supported, or it can be totally unsupported, providing flexibility for different paddlers’ needs. It’s important to note that in many cases, the paddler and kayak may need other adaptations besides the paddle itself (e.g., outriggers, trunk support, Hoyer lift) to ensure the paddler’s safety, so working with knowledgeable instructors or physical therapists who have training in adaptive paddling is important.