Shoulder Pain in Archers: Causes and Prevention

By Western Berks Physical Therapy on December 2nd, 2020

Shoulder Pain in Archers

The beginning of archery season can be felt every year in our physical therapy clinics as archers call in for appointments for shoulder pain and shoulder injuries. For many hunters and sportsmen, shoulder pain in archers occur when the body is under prepared for the job that lies ahead. Overexertion is a common cause of shoulder pain and injuries. It can exhaust your muscles; hurting your form and causing pain and injuries. Because our physical therapists understand the biomechanics specific to archers, many Berks County Pennsylvania hunters and archers trust Western Berks Physical Therapy to get them back to shooting straight. We find many archers experience some pain in at least 2 of these major areas: shoulders and arms.

Injuries to the rotator cuff are archery’s most common problem. The rotator cuff is a complex system of muscles and tendons in your upper arm that is used to draw a bow and to raise and rotate your arm. Rotator cuff injuries include tendinitis, bursitis and, in severe cases, a rotator cuff tear. A torn rotator cuff is not always easy to diagnose but symptoms include having trouble lifting, raising your arm, pain when moving, shoulder weakness, or a clicking sound in your shoulder when moving it. If you have any of these symptoms, stop shooting and consult your doctor. Through skilled rehabilitation most archers recover and resume shooting upon completing physical therapy.

The forearm is another commonly injured body part that is susceptible to overuse injuries during archery. If the forearm of your bow arm is sore, that’s a good indication that it’s time to take a break. Many forearm muscles and tendons are used throughout the draw cycle to steady your bow. Overusing these forearm muscles can cause pain. In particular, inflammation of the tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the elbow can cause extreme pain.

Shoulder pain in archers can put a huge damper on your shooting regimen, so let’s discuss ways to reduce shoulder pain and injuries from occurring in the first place.

Tips to Reduce Shoulder Pain While Bow Hunting

  • Prepare early. Don’t wait to begin preparing a week before a tournament or the start of hunting season. Start soon to work up your strength and stamina.
  • Consult a physical therapist. Archery uses much different muscles than those used in daily living and in other sports. Scheduling a physical therapy evaluation with the experts at Western Berks Physical Therapy can ensure that you’re prepared and ready to go on opening day. Custom exercise programs are utilized in conjunction with physical therapy treatments to make sure your archery muscles are in tip top shape.
  • Start with a lightweight bow and work your way up. The more you practice using a lightweight bow with proper form, the easier it will be to engage and build your archery muscles.
  • Practice proper form. Reduce the load on your shoulder and arms by drawing your bow with good form. You should feel the muscles in your back and shoulder blades working as you draw the bow. It’s important to NOT use your biceps or triceps while drawing. Doing so can result in tension in your arms and shoulders, and lead to injury. Instead, lead with your elbow and continue with your rear shoulder moving in an angular direction until you reach a full draw. To learn the proper bow-drawing technique, take lessons from a certified coach.
  • Don’t shoot to exhaustion; instead consider shooting daily for short practice sessions. As you continue to condition yourself through these sessions, gradually lengthen your practice time.
  • Particularly for forearm soreness during shooting, resting and reducing your shooting activity is very important. This rest period helps your body’s muscles and tendons rebuild which reduces the risk of more severe injuries.
  • Prevention through exercise. You can prevent shoulder injuries by regularly exercising your rotator cuffs and shoulders. While these exercises are not a replacement for the skills and knowledge of a physical therapist, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends this Rotator Cuff and Shoulder Conditioning Program.
    • Warning: Routine exercises such as shoulder presses, bench presses and pull ups don’t efficiently target the rotator cuff. If not performed carefully, with very strict form, these exercises are well known to cause cuff injuries. This is why a comprehensive evaluation with a skilled physical therapist is so important to developing a custom home exercise program that helps you safely reach your archery goals.

Shoulder Pain Treatment Options

Many times patients ignore shoulder pain throughout the archery season, leading to increased pain and an increased risk of needing surgery. Thankfully, through proper treatment you can get relief and avoid shoulder pain in the future through physical therapy. The goal of any physical therapy treatment plan is to relieve symptoms and restore full function in the long-term so that you can get back to the activities you enjoy.

For archers already experiencing shoulder pain, a shoulder strengthening and conditioning program is a great way to prevent many chronic shoulder problems as well as rehabilitate previously injured bow hunters and archers. Our physical therapists are specialized in shoulder injuries and are able to fully evaluate your pain. We understand the mechanics of bow shooting and how to relieve stress on your shoulder. We are experts in quickly rehabilitating shoulders to get you back to shooting in the shortest amount of time.

For archers looking to prepare for the archery season ahead, a strengthening program for the shoulder muscles is of great benefit. Working with our physical therapists allows you to gradually enter into a new shooting regimen while strengthening supporting muscles and joints. You’ll also find many great resources here for archery-focused exercises that you can do at home. By taking measures to prepare your body, you’ll enjoy more success and find more satisfaction in archery, and live a healthier, happier life.

For archers considering steroid injections, consider the following. When conservative treatments fail, steroid injections may be recommended. While these can quickly resolve inflammation, they do nothing to correct the underlying problem which caused the inflammation and pain in the first place. The pain will likely recur unless you make changes in your form or to your conditioning. Repeated steroid injections have also been shown to weaken tendons.

Let Western Berks Physical Therapy prepare you for the physically demanding sport of archery and prevent unnecessary pain and injury from occurring. Through a combination of physical therapy, exercise, proper form and equipment, you’ll enjoy many years of safe, pain free archery. Request your physical therapy appointment today by calling 610-589-2263.

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