The Surf Report
Stay on top of your ride this summer
Surfing involves dynamic movement on an unstable surface. So to be able to surf well out in the ocean, it is important to be able to move well on land. As surfing is such a demanding sport, it requires flexibility and strength to perform. Muscular imbalance and restricted movement are key problems that can keep surfers out of the water.
Unfortunately, due to the unpredictability of the ocean some injuries can also be caused by trauma. However, a lot of surf injuries can be avoided with early intervention. Here are some of the key issues to be aware of, and some tips to avoid them restricting your ability to surf.
A common cause of neck injuries in the surf is overuse. You spend a lot of time in a prone lying position with your neck extended. Prolonged extension on the cervical joints in closed position (packed position) whilst paddling, can cause increased demand on the neck structures. The pain will reduce your ability to look ahead for the next set or look over your shoulder when paddling for the next wave. Stiffness and pain through the neck can develop poor biomechanics in your shoulder resulting in further injury.
# TIP: Daily range-of-motion neck stretches and chin tucks can help slowly improve the mobility in your neck.
Shoulder pain is one of the most common injuries that occurs for surfers. Pain and weakness can affect your strength when paddling, duck diving and popping up. Overuse and weakness with the repetitive paddling stroke can lead to injuries on tendons, or pinching of bursa structures. Paddling strengthens the large muscles in the shoulder (Levator scapular, Latissimus dorsi, Upper Trapezius, Deltoids, Pec Major). Unfortunately, it does not work the smaller rotator cuff muscles as much. Having that imbalance can result in impingement through the shoulder, making shoulder movement painful.
# TIP: In the gym it is important to target your smaller (rotator cuff) muscle groups with light free weight exercises.
After a big day of fighting the current and paddling endlessly to get back out into the line up it can quite often feel like your back is starting to seize and go into spasm. A strong back is critical for keeping any surfer in the water. Paddling on your board basically involves long periods of back extension. If the strength and endurance is not there to hold that position, you are likely to end up with a sore back and the potential for further injury.
# TIP: In the gym incorporate back extensor exercises, along with core and functional rotational movements.
Popping up, a few pumps down the line, a round house cut back and a few more pumps, all require great mobility and flexibility – especially in the hips. Due to our lives becoming more sedentary (or spending 50 mins in a car following a cautious drive out to Piha). Our hips become shorter and tighter due to prolonged contracted positions. Tight hips can cause not only pain and limitation in your surfing manoeuvres, but also can contribute to pain in the lower back and knees.
# TIP: Regular stretching of hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes and adductors are important for maintaining hip mobility.
Knees can take a beating out in the surf. The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is one of the most common structures to injure on the knee while surfing. The MCL is the large ligament that supports the inside of everyone’s knee. When you’re in a crouched position about to be barrelled, your back knee position is often bent and twisted inwards. If the wave were to close out or dump heavy on you, the MCL would be under a lot of stress and this can lead to a sprained or torn ligament.
# TIP: Make sure the muscles around your knee are strong to support your knee structures. Strengthening quads, glutes and incorporating balance exercises are key.
The ankle is important in surfing as it gives the surfer the first lot of information as to where they are positioned on the board. A lot more ankle injuries are happening for surfers as aerial manoeuvres are becoming more common resulting in an increase in awkward landings. A rolled ankle or stiff ankle can both be limiting for surfers. Pain and lack of mobility can cause difficulty popping up, crouching low or limit power when carving that big turn.
# TIP: In the gym focus on balance and mobility, as well as calf strength for push off.
If you are aware of any injuries that may be affecting your surfing performance, or would like to go over your technique and strengthening exercises, get in contact with our team at Ponsonby Physiotherapy. We’re happy to help you with the right functional advice and support to keep you on the water this summer.
Article by Kendal de Besten, Physiotherapist
Photo credit: Tim Marshall