Five top tips for avoiding sailing injuries and back pain
Living and working in Emsworth and Langstone, you’ll know that sailing is an inherent part of our community here (so much so, we’ve included some photos taken by Philippa of our lovely harbour!) As such, it’s not uncommon for us to be treating professional or recreational sailors in clinic, and whether you compete professionally or just enjoy a turn about the Solent, sailing poses as much a risk of injury as with any sport.Sailors often compete in extremely difficult conditions, battling high winds and rough seas, and as such the risk of injury during sailing is 8.6 per 1000 hours sailing when training, and 2.2/1000 otherwise. In a study on the 2003 America’s Cup, researchers found that the upper limb was the most commonly injured body segment (40%), followed by the spine and neck (30%), and the most common injuries were joint/ligament sprains (27%) and tendinopathies (20%). (1)
Who is at risk of injury?
Mastmen are at greatest risk of acute injuries, helmsmen most commonly injury the upper-limb through steering, whilst grinders and bowmen are at the greatest risk of injury from repetitive strains. High repetition activities such as hiking, pumping, grinding and sterring are major causes of overuse injury, even in the most experienced of sailors. Windsurfers are also frequently admitted to hospital suffering from chronic lower back injuries as a result of “pumping” the sail.
It’s not just the professionals who are at risk of injury, as novice and recreational sailors commonly encounter acute injuries such as contusions or abrasions after colliding with the boom or other equipment whilst performing manoeuvres. (1) Not only that, but there are other perils to consider: tripping over ropes, winches and cleats; being swept overboard or falling down open hatches!
How and why do sailing injuries occur?
[clickToTweet tweet=”What are the main contributors to #sailing #injuries? Find out here! #Chiropractic” quote=”The main contributors to sailing injuries are: Heavy weather (23%), tacking (17%), jibing (13%), sail change (12%) and alcohol (7%)”]
Injuries may result from a lack of general fitness, overuse, overtraining, or macrotraumatic accidents.
Lack of warming up, stretching, and cooling down may also increase the risk of injury.
Muscles are placed at high risk when performing explosive, powerful moves, such as those frequently required when sailing.
Shoulder and arm injuries are common through constant handling of the mainsheet, and the sudden, strong movements in hiking may lead to back and knee problems. (Remember Sir Ben Ainslie’s back injury? This was caused by repetitive, high strain hiking out!)
Inadequate leg strength and poor hiking technique are thought to predispose the knee to injury.
Boats can be difficult to navigate around and result in crew members having to adopt awkward positions, often resulting in rotating, hyperextending, locking, or twisting of joints.
Incorrect lifting technique (more advice on this here!)
Postural problems are common in the majority of the population, and these inherent issues can lend themselves to musculoskeletal problems.
Poor fitness training may exacerbate common muscular imbalances associated with changing forces on opposing muscle groups while sailing.
If ignored, it is easy for these issues to progress into a chronic problem, the possible severity of which could impact on your participation and enjoyment in the sport.
So what can be done about it? Five simple steps to avoiding sailing injuries!
- A robust exercise regime is crucial, which should focus on all aspects of physical fitness in order to ensure that your body can cope with the demands of sailing.
– Cardiovascular training
– Strength training (Competitive sailors should undergo regular health screening with specific strengthening of high-risk muscle groups, synergists and stabilizers. )
– Flexibility training
– Core stability training
– For more advice on bespoke rehabilitation plans, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our Langstone clinic.
- Research has shown that aerobic training and fitness is directly related to an improved reaction speed to wind shifts, as well as enhanced endurance, decision making, and concentration, particularly in the later stages of races. Mental and physical recovery is faster for those who are physically fit. Suggested types of aerobic exercise that are most appropriate for sailors are rowing, cycling, swimming, stair climbing, or running.(3)/li>
- Regular checkups can help ensure joint movement and function is maintained, as well as provide an opportunity for assessment of joint strength and function. Not only will this help reduce the risk of developing injuries, but it can also speed up recovery should you become injured.
- Technical skill and expertise is important– if your technique needs improvement, seek out advice and informed coaching to help minimise the risk of developing an injury as a result of poor technique.
- Taking frequent breaks and changing positions during long periods of sailing. This will help prevent postural stresses and strains from occurring and is a healthy spinal habit we all should follow.
Whilst we have focused on musculoskeletal injuries, there are a number of other safety measures to take into consideration. Above all, always wear a life jacket when sailing. In the UK, there were 35 sailing or water-sport related deaths at sea in 2014 alone. Safety at sea should always be taken seriously.
Want more advice or information on this topic? Email us at email@example.com or call the clinic on 01243 379693.
1. Neville, V., Folland, J.P. (2009) The epidemiology and aetiology of injuries in sailing. Sports Medicine. 39(2) 129-145.
2. Nathanson, Mello, Baird “Sailing Injuries and Illness – Results of an Internet-based survey” Wild Env Med 2010
3. Allen, J.B., De Jong, M.R. (2006) Sailing and sports medicine: A literature review. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 40(7) 587-593.
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