How not to let a niggling shoulder get in the way of your surf trip
Every surfer knows that there’s nothing that can quite throw a spanner in the works on a surf trip than the onset of surfers shoulder, otherwise known as swimmers shoulder. On a recent surf trip to Morocco I noticed that every other person seemed to be suffering from varying degrees of discomfort in this area; with the other half suffering from Moroc belly!
Don’t let niggling pain in and around your shoulder girdle ruin your otherwise paradisiacal trip away to your dream waves. These tips below for both home or away should help to keep surfers shoulder at bay.
Release trigger points with a ball
A self massage ball should be in every surfers travel kit and are readily available to buy from most major sports shops, but if you haven’t got one to hand then a tennis ball will do just fine. Not only good for releasing knots (trigger points) in the back and shoulders, using a ball around your shoulder blades, mid and upper back and neck can also help stop adhesions forming in the fascia around your major muscles, helping to maintain mobility for paddling and pop ups.
For myofascial release very slowly traction the ball around your shoulder blades, a hotbed for trigger points, using a wall to help you maintain pressure. Slowness is the key when it comes to releasing connective tissues, so take your time to really notice what’s going on back there. You can further increase the soft tissue release by mindfully drawing your arm up over head, then across the midline of your body, then opening out to the other side and back down to your side again to complete the circle. When you encounter a spot where the fibres feel more bundled together then hold still and apply pressure for around 30 seconds, or until you feel the sensation ease off.
Other good areas to apply this technique to are:
- Just underneath the armpit on the posterior side, where the tendons of the Latissimus Dorsi insert, otherwise known as the swimmer’s muscle.
- The upper medial edge of the shoulder blade is another good one where you’ll find the insertion of the Levator Scapulae, the muscle responsible for elevating the scapula and also responsible for a lot of cases of neck and headache. Follow this muscle all the way up to its origin just off centre on the base of the skull. From here you can roll the ball all the way along the skull line massaging a lot of the posterior neck muscles along the way.
- Either side of your spine where your Erector spinae muscle group is found, helping to release your overworked back line. A fuller cylindrical foam roller may be better at this job if you can get hold of one.
- Rub a ball transversely (sideways) across your shoulders to help release tight Deltoids. And when a bit more pressure is applied to just below the deltoids on the top of the arm; to friction the tendons of the Rotator Cuff muscle group that lie underneath your superior shoulder muscles.
A gentle relief for chronic pain, heat therapy can help to ease the symptoms of muscle spasms, relaxing tight muscles and easing aches and pain. This is a result of increased circulation, providing fresh nutrients to your tissues and helping to flush out toxins. Whereas an acute injury in a highly inflamed state or a wound would require ice therapy, heat therapy is a great way to passively release fatigued overused muscles.
Consider these following techniques, depending what you have available to you:
- A long soak in a hot bath, preferably with some muscle relaxants such as Epsom salts added to the water. Epsom salts contain sulphate; which is said to help flush toxins and absorb nutrients, and magnesium, which is touted to improve muscle and nerve function and reduce inflammation. If you don’t have access to a bath then widely available Magnesium spray can be applied directly onto areas of tension directly after showering, which helps your skin to absorb it more readily.
- A steam room or sauna; just make sure you double hydrate afterwards. Adding in some Olbas Oil can help clear your sinuses if you still feel like you’ve got half the ocean swimming around up there.
- Apply Tiger balm or another heat rub, massaging it over the affected area until a soothing heat like sensation forms. Such creams use a natural spicy formula to simulate the sensation of heat, creating a change in the way your nerve receptors feel pain and in turn helping to relieve muscular aches and pains.
Release surrounding tissues with stretches
- We all know that Yoga and Surfing are best friends, so if you can get along to a yoga class as often as possible then you’ll really feel the benefits out on the water. And whilst strong flows and Power yoga classes can be excellent for building your strength, core and balance pre surf trip, the likelihood is that you’ve probably done enough of this if you’re putting in some power hours out in the water whilst actually on your trip. Instead look for classes that slowly and gently release tight and tired muscles and tissues such as Yin Yoga or a Hatha Flow class. Also classes that focus on mobility work in which you take your joints safely through their full ROM can be very beneficial. Tai Chi or Qigong are also fantastic moving meditations that open you up to The Flow and deepen your ind and body connection.
If you can’t find a class to get to then these simple stretches for about 20 minutes a day should help to keep surfers shoulder at bay:
1. Seated neck stretch
Sit with one hand reaching behind you and the other grabbing that arms elbow, tilting your head to one side. Experiment with which side you feel the stretch on more by trying your ear dropped towards one shoulder then the other, and also with how much your chin is tucked into your chest or rotated towards your shoulder. This moves the stretch between different neck muscles. Once you’ve found the sweet spot hold for 10-15 breaths, trying to keep the shoulders down and relaxed, and then repeat with the other arm.
2. Spinal twist for releasing the thoracic spine and QL muscles
Lying on your back bend both knees and drop them to the right, bringing your arms out to a T or extending the left arm overhead. Look toward the left bringing your spine into a full rotation. Experiment with bringing your knees closer or further away from your torso and whether you want your knees grounded and your shoulder lifted or vice versa. Hold for 2-5 minutes each side.
3. Chest opener
lying on the floor roll up a pillow or cushion so that your shoulder blades are elevated but your buttocks and back of your head are still on the floor. You can hold your arms out in a T shape with straight of bend elbows depending what is more comfy for you, to encourage a gentle opening across your chest. Stay here for 5 minutes, following the inward and outward flow of your breath and meditating on the waves which you’ve caught that day.
Get a massage
The best way to free up adhesions forming in your tissues is with a massage. A sports massage or deep tissue massage will work specifically on problem areas that have already started forming, just make sure you can rest afterwards and rehydrate with plenty of water. Or for general maintenance and a bit of therapeutic down time, Swedish or Hot stone massages will help keep all the nutrients flowing to your muscles and tendons.
Have a rest day
Never underestimate the power of a rest day! Yes I know the temptation is to get out there and battle through any aches when the stoke is on, but there comes a point where pushing through starts becoming potentially injurious. Your body is going to love you if you just give it a little break and you’ll come back surfing stronger and fitter for it. Make sure you give yourself at least one full day a week to get in some extra Z’s, replenish your body with as much nutritious food as possible and read a good book or watch a surf movie or two.
Emma from Ocean Flow Fitness is a Sports Masseur, a 700 hr Certified Yoga Teacher, a mixed movement aficionado and a passionate surf traveller.