Georgiy Sekretaryuk
May 8, 2018
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Physiotherapy for Surfers – Physical Therapy for Surfing

Physiotherapy for Surfers and Surfing

Summer is coming to the Lower Mainland, and that means water sport enthusiasts are getting ready for the season. Surfers in particular are coming out of the woodwork more than ever before, in search of local waves after news dropped that the sport has been added to the 2020 Summer Olympics. You’re going to see a lot more people in BC (and Canada) with boards racked to their roof and en route to Tofino and up and down the west coast in the seasons to come. As Burnaby and Greater Vancouver’s physical therapy resource for all sports, we thought it timely to dive in with some advice on how physio can make you a better all around surfer.

5 Ways Physiotherapy Can Help Surfers Improve Performance While Both Preventing and Treating Common Injuries

1. Treatment for Common Injuries Suffered by Surfers

Like with any “action sport” there are numerous ways you can get hurt surfing. While lacerations from surfboard fins or bumps, cuts, and bruises sustained from hitting the rocks or reef below the water’s surface top the list, there are also injuries to muscles, tendons, and ligaments that can keep you out of the water for extended periods.

Below, are the most common injuries sustained by the surfing population:

  • Shoulder strain – Surfing requires a lot of paddling, and that makes your shoulders vulnerable to overuse. Thus, rotator-cuff impingement and tendonitis are extremely common. A physiotherapy clinic will be able to correct this with effective treatments that include active release technique (ART), IMS dry needling, and more.
  • Back pain – The back muscles also goes through a wide variety of strenuous motions when paddling through rough current. That being said, many back injuries in surfing occur as a result of a wipeout or sudden movement such as swinging around quickly to catch an incoming wave. A physiotherapist will treat back pain with a variety of massage techniques, exercises, stretches, and when necessary, through chiropractic therapy.
  • Other – Your whole body is being worked when wave riding, and thus it is susceptible to all sorts of injuries not addressed above. These are often found in the lower extremities, especially in light of the new wave of progressive surfing. The threat of ankle and knee sprains and dislocations in addition to deeper impediment of the vital anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in the knee and the sensitive ligaments of the ankles are ever present. Physical therapy can correct all of the above. Then there are other random occurrences that can happen. For example, Mick Fanning (of recent shark encounter fame) tore his hamstring off the bone during a mistimed maneuver years ago. Physiotherapy not only saved Mick’s career, it helped catapult it, as he would return to the sport to win a total of three World Championships.

2. Prevention of Common Injuries Suffered by Surfers

You don’t need to have sustained an injury from surfing to visit a physiotherapist. The common injuries above can be prevented from happening in the first place, when you abide by the principles of physical therapy.

One of the biggest misconceptions about surfing is that it’s a laid back activity and that the only prep you need is to stumble out of your VW van like Spicoli, zip up your wetsuit, and paddle out for some tasty waves. But as any core surfer knows, there is a lot more that needs to be done. The same physiotherapy guided sports injury prevention protocol must be applied. This includes a proper 10 minute warmup (stretching to account for the common injuries noted above, light jogging, hopping, and even pop-up simulations) and a 5-minute cool down upon exit from the water to loosen up those well-taxed shoulder, back, neck, and leg muscles. Also take note that you can use the time spent sitting on your board between waves/sets to stretch your shoulders and rotate your neck and back. This will keep you loose and flexible during your session.

Lastly, by making physiotherapy a part of your health and wellness regime, you will learn a variety of proper body movements and motions (as dictated by your therapist) which will serve you well in surf injury prevention.

3. Preparing the Body for Extended Periods in Cold Water 

British Columbia surfers have to contend with a very cold northern Pacific Ocean. The body does not always respond well to this, which is why regular visits with a physiotherapist is a good idea. For one, those who exhibit greater physical fitness are better suited to manage their time in cold water. But there’s more to consider.

Immersing your body in cold water squeezes blood from your limbs into your chest and makes your heart work harder, which can raise your blood pressure. Then, when you duck dive or wipe out, you go underwater and hold your breath, which can slow down the heart and make your blood pressure rise. This is all compounded as the water temperature gets colder. Then, there is the shock of cold water against your skin which automatically triggers a survival response in your body, which also makes your blood pressure rise. You can see how important it is to maintain healthy blood pressure, which is where physiotherapy once again comes in. Regular treatments such as Swedish Massage can help regulate your blood pressure and thus better prepare you for that next session in Tofino, Washington State, or other cold water wave spots.

4. Improving Balance

What’s the first thing you think of when it comes to an admirable surf-skill set? Balance. Your walking on water act will get a whole lot better as you work to improve your balance, and physiotherapy can be instrumental in this. Learn more about how physiotherapy can be directly applied to improve your balance.

5. Improving the Core

Core fitness (also instrumental in balance addressed above) is the key to better surfing. It will help you paddle better, with your lower back arched and chest up in the appropriate manner, and will assist in the trickiest part of surfing – the pop up. It will also help keep you on your board as you glide across the uneven surface of the water, and when surfing crowded conditions (Long Beach on a summer day, etc.) it will help your body (and mind) maintain composure. Core fitness is the cornerstone of surfing and physiotherapy alike, so it just makes good sense that if you want to improve your surfing, then you will want to improve your core fitness through physical therapy.

If you live in the Greater Vancouver area and plan on chasing that proverbial (and literal?) endless summer, contact our Burnaby physiotherapy clinic to schedule a consultation today.



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