Dirty Little Secrets (Archery Injuries)

QandA logoI got a follow-up question to the one that prompted me to write the post “Competing While Injured—Just Say No.” Here it is:

Dear Coach Ruis,
As mentioned before, I injured my shoulder and have been unable to practice for 3+ weeks now. This is probably the result of me over practicing for the several days leading up to the Turkey Trot tournament. For future practices, how can I know when to stop practicing? I had no indication that this would happen. My shoulder was a little sore, but I thought that was a good thing because I wanted to build up extra muscle.

* * *

This is a serious question. My student who submitted this question is going to see a doctor and I will be working with him after we have a diagnosis. Without specifics I can only comment about injuries in general.

Archery injuries are fairly common amongst serious (that is practicing) archers. I have been through the “grand circle” more than once in that I have injured my bow wrist, bow elbow, bow shoulder, draw/string shoulder, draw/string elbow, and draw/string wrist and some of those more than once. At one point I stopped shooting for over a year because of elbow tendonitis. And the older I get, the slower I heal. I suspect that if you query any other serious archer you will get similar comments.

There has been very little study made of archery-related injuries. The only serious attempt of which I am aware is the book commissioned by FITA (now world Archery) entitled ‘Sports medicine and Science in Archery” (should still be available in WA’s website). That book has some survey information (surveying young fit international competitors) and a few analyses and was a start on the topic but so far there has been no follow-up. The literature for sports injuries in general, and other sports in particular, is much more voluminous.

Since there is so little known about archery-related injuries I can only share what I suspect. Most archery-related injuries are repetitive-stress injuries in that the injuries from arrows and bows blowing up are quite rare. These kinds of injuries are promoted by the use of poor form and inappropriate equipment. For example and obviously, archers who are overbowed (too much draw weight) will end up inventing some new technique to get the string back. The literature of archery going back 500 years has descriptions of some of the bizarre gyrations archers will use to draw a bow beyond their capabilities, so this is nothing new. You can still see it today at any archery range.

The seed bed of injuries is poor technique. Not getting your bones lined up to bear the stress of a drawn bow means that your muscles will be invoked to “hold everything in place.” These muscles (e.g. the rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder) are often small and undersized for those tasks and are easy to overstress and injure.

There are just a few signs to help us with this:
Pain If you feel pain while shooting … stop! Rest and try again another day and if you still experience pain see a medical professional.

Recovery Times If you feel sore “the next day” from an archery session, that is not unusual. If you feel sore they day after that … you over did it. This doesn’t so much prevent injuries but at least it provides a guide to “how much is too much practice.” The hope is we can learn this without serious injury incurred while getting the lesson.

Practice/Tournament Times Modern learning theory indicates that we learn best in short intense sessions. So, a one-hour shooting session in the morning and another in the afternoon is superior to a two-hour or possibly even three-hour continuous session. But, most of us have busy lives and we have few bubbles of spare time … and we love archery, so when we get a morning or afternoon free we go to the range and over do it. Please realize that the Olympic-level athletes are training six days a week: morning, noon, and night but have trained intensely to build up the capacity to train those hours. It did not happen to them over night. And just because they can, has no bearing whatsoever whether you or your students can. Most of my injuries have come about by having little to no regular practice and then being enticed to go and compete which involves what? It involves shooting higher volumes of arrows with a scoring focus which tends to blur if not block the signals that you are doing damage to your body. This is a recipe for injuries. I hope to learn this lesson before I die.

If there are any exercise science experts out there willing to chime in, I would love a guest post following up on this topic.

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