Preventing Dragon Boating Injuries (Two Part Physio Series): Part Two

Preventing Dragon Boating Injuries (Two Part Physio Series): Part Two

In part one of our physiotherapy tips to prevent dragon boating and paddling injuries, we talked about which areas of the body are most commonly injured, the importance of strength training, the power of focusing on the right technique, and why you should never skimp on working on your flexibility. If you haven’t read it yet, start here.

Alongside these points, we also recommend:

Gradually Progress Through And Increase Your Training

Going too hard, too fast is easily one of the most common training errors that lead to overuse injuries seen by our physiotherapists. Instead, gradually increasing the intensity and volume of your training is a safer and more sustainable approach to helping your body best adapt to the physical demands of dragon boating, without overloading your muscles and joints to the point of injury. Good training progression includes:

Incremental increases in your training load

Gradually raising the intensity, duration, and frequency of your training sessions is key. Follow the 10% rule, where you increase your training load by no more than 10% each week. This will help your muscles, tendons, and ligaments to adapt and strengthen over time, which reduces the risk of overuse injuries such as tendonitis and muscle strains​​.

Adequate rest and recovery

Adequate rest allows the body to repair and strengthen itself between training sessions. Without a good recovery, the risk of overtraining and subsequent injuries increases. Support your recovery with:

  • Scheduled rest days: incorporating regular rest days into the training schedule will support muscle repair and recovery, supporting your long-term performance and injury risk.
  • Active recovery: this involves engaging in low-intensity activities, such as walking or gentle stretching, on rest days to promote blood flow and aid in muscle recovery. To learn more about the difference between active and passive recovery and how to use each one to your advantage, read this.
  • Sleep and nutrition: getting enough sleep and eating a balanced diet helps support your overall health, as well as your recovery processes. Focus on high quality, whole food veggies and fruit, complex carbohydrates and quality protein leading up to an event and consider working with a nutritionist depending on how competitive you’re participating. We’ve shared a section on the importance of hydration below.

Adjusting your training plan as needed

Even when you have a personalised training plan, it’s important to listen to what your body is telling you and make adjustments to your plan as needed. It’s not uncommon for signs of discomfort, fatigue or pain to arise unexpectedly, even when you’re following a sustainable training progression plan. Don’t push through - make adjustments to the plan so you keep progressing at the right pace for you. If you need help, check in with your physiotherapist - injury prevention and management is a very big part of what we do. Remember, everyone starts with different baselines and sometimes progression takes longer than expected. It’s okay for your progression to take a little longer, as long as you stay safe and listen to your body if it’s telling you that a more serious injury may be around the corner.

Ergonomic Paddling Equipment

While the equipment you choose to use goes beyond our typical scope, and some things may be outside of your control (such as the paddles that are available to you), it’s still an interesting area to be aware of, especially when you consider the link between ergonomics and injuries (and why workplace ergonomics is another one of our key specialty areas in physiotherapy).

Having the right equipment (in any setting), can help reduce strain on muscles and joints, enhance performance, and for dragon boating, increase comfort during both training and events. Here are some considerations you may want to be aware of:

Your paddle

Paddles should be sized to be matched to your body and technique, and:

  • Your paddle length should be based on your height and the seating position in the boat. A paddle that is too long or too short can cause undue strain on the shoulders and back. A general guideline is that the paddle should reach the paddler's chin or nose when standing upright.
  • Paddles made from lightweight materials (such as carbon fibre or fibreglass) reduce the overall paddle weight, decreasing the strain on the arms and shoulders. Having ergonomic grips can also help maintain a natural wrist position, reducing the risk of tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome​​.

Seating

Sitting well and comfortable can help you maintain a good posture and distribute paddling forces evenly across the body. Consider whether you may benefit from using cushions or pads (for better support and comfort), especially during long training sessions. This may be worthwhile if you’re experiencing notable pressure on your lower back and hips.

Clothing

Consider using:

  • Clothing made from moisture-wicking materials, as they’ll help keep your skin dry and reduce the risk of chafing and blisters (which was one of the most common non-musculoskeletal injuries in the dragon boating injury study we mentioned in part one of the article).
  • Paddling gloves that do a good job at protecting your hands from blisters while helping improve grip and reducing the strain on the forearms and wrists.
  • Sun protection (such as hats and UV-protective clothing). Sunburn is also a top non-musculoskeletal injury in paddling sports.
  • Cold-weather gear to maintain comfort and performance in varying weather conditions.

Working With A Trusted Physiotherapist

Many dragon boaters choose to work with a physiotherapist for support with injury prevention, recovery from injury, and optimising performance on the water. Step one is an assessment to understand a person’s specific areas of imbalances, weakness and dysfunction. The results provide a detailed insight into potential risks and vulnerabilities.

  • If you have an existing injury, your physiotherapist will help you with relieving your symptoms, implementing therapies to repair and resolve the problem (including addressing the underlying causes), and will put the right measures in place to help prevent the problem from recurring in the future. This includes giving you the right information on things you can be doing on a daily basis to best support your health and wellbeing - both at home, during your training session, and on race day at the events.
  • If you’ve had injuries in the past, your physio will assess any weakness, tightness or other imbalances that may be present as a result, as well as assessing your risk of reinjury. They’ll then help you put the right measures in place to reduce the likelihood of this injury recurring (and other problems developing).
  • If you are not dealing with any injuries or discomforts, the results of your assessment help optimise your performance on the water (and throughout your day in general) while reducing your injury risk.

The PhysioCentral physio team leverages their knowledge around how the paddling movements performed in dragon boating load and stress the body to best support our clients, with some of our physios personally involved in coaching dragon boat teams as well participating in the sport themselves. For treatment, we use evidence-based techniques and services ranging from soft tissue mobilisation, to exercise rehabilitation programs, physiotherapy-guided clinical Pilates, and more. You can learn more about our physiotherapy services here.

Hydration And Nutrition

Hydration and nutrition have big implications on sports performance and training, and dragon boating is no exception. When you lose just 5% of your body weight in water, your sports performance can be reduced by up to 30%.[1]

Even losing as little as 1-2% is enough to start significantly decreasing your endurance and performance - while increasing your risk of setbacks like nausea. Studies show that dehydration also limits your strength and power - both of which are key when you’re out on the water.

Proper nutrition is also vital for dragon boaters as it supports muscle function, enhances recovery, and supports overall performance. A balanced diet rich in carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats provides the necessary energy for high-intensity paddling and aids in muscle repair and growth. Carbohydrates fuel endurance, while proteins help in the repair and growth of muscle tissues, crucial for recovery and strength. Consuming anti-inflammatory foods and maintaining a diet high in antioxidants can also reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery times.​ 

Interesting Point: Mental Health For Physical Performance

This point is not often spoken about, but if you want to optimise your performance and minimise your risk of injury, managing your stress and taking care of your mental health, where possible, can also make a notable difference.

Good mental health supports focus and concentration, allowing paddlers to perform techniques correctly and consistently. This reduces the risk of injuries caused by poor form or lack of attention. Living with prolonged stress can also lead to increased muscle tension, fatigue, and a weakened immune system, making a person more susceptible to injuries.

What can you do? We’ve seen athletes leverage stress management techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and visualisation to improve mental clarity and resilience, helping them to stay calm and composed during intense training sessions and competitions.

It’s not just during sports, either. You can also leverage the relationship between your mental and physical well being to support you in other areas of your life, including your work. We’ve written an article about this here.

Feeling Stuck? Start Here

If you’ve been dealing with recurring pain or discomfort throughout your dragonboat training or events, or you’re worried that you’re one training session away from an injury, our experienced physiotherapy team is here to help. You can book your appointment at one of our clinics online here, or call us on +852 2801 4801