Recently, I’ve been treating a competitive archer with a shoulder injury. It’s always interesting to come across a patient with a problem related to a specific activity I can find out more about, so I’ve been doing some investigation, which I thought I’d share.
On a quick look at some research, it looks like shoulder injuries pretty much go with the territory, particularly for female archers. In one study, around 60% of competitive female archers suffered some kind of shoulder injury over a ten year career, and around 25% of men.
Most of these are rotator cuff injuries – tendonitis, which can lead to degeneration and tears. These small ‘rotator cuff’ muscles can easily become overstrained by repetitive actions if the position of the shoulder girdle isn’t optimal, particularly if the shoulder blade ‘protracts’, or rolls out and forward around the ribcage. If there’s a noticeable asymmetry in the position of your shoulder blade, you may be prone to this. The biceps brachii can also be overstrained if the elbow of the draw arm comes markedly forward of the line of the shoulders.
The good news is, the research also identifies major factors that contribute to injury, and the chief amongst these are lack of training and non-specific training. So, plenty you can do something about!
If you already have an injury, you should always seek advice rather than diagnose yourself online (even here!), and you should discuss any changes in your training with your coach or instructor if you have one. However, I thought I’d share a few useful resources I found, mainly focused on creating and maintaining a good position of the shoulder girdle. If you have an injury, treatment should help, but unless you address the root of the problem, it may happen again.
Remember, some of these exercises may not be appropriate if you already have a injury.
Korean Archery Team weight training: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZzFARh-HLY
Apparently, the Korean archery team are Quite Good. The things I notice are the slow, controlled performance of the exercises, which not only ensures good form, but allows them to exercise muscles eccentrically (controlling the rate at which they lengthen); some nice rotator cuff exercises, and plenty of exercises that involve pulling and squeezing the shoulder blades together (rows, flies etc.) to provide stability for the shoulder girdle.
Avoid ‘pointy shoulder’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hxj0-pU7EPs
‘Pointy shoulder’ is another way of describing protraction of the shoulder blade. As the shoulder blade rolls forward and round, the tip of the shoulder points forward. It can put a strain on the anterior capsule of the shoulder joint, as this man vividly demonstrates; but it also puts most of the rotator cuff muscles at a mechanical disadvantage – stretching them and asking them to work at the same time, which muscles don’t appreciate. What I really like about this video is his functional exercise progression with a resistance band – taking a specific exercise and progressing it to something very close to the activity you actually do. This is a Good Thing.
Performance Archery – balance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X49xdu1wGdo
Although you want to avoid ‘pointy shoulder’, you also want to avoid going too far the other way, squeezing the shoulder blade of your draw arm too far in towards the spine and creating muscular imbalances that way, as well as potentially bringing a curve and twist into the spine with a raise of the front shoulder. Although it’s useful to employ a “pinch” of the shoulder blades down and towards each other, it’s perhaps best to think in terms of avoiding protraction (rolling forward and round the ribcage), rather than squeezing too far the other way with the draw arm.
Biomechanics of archery: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJtZT2KcIM0
I won’t say too much about these, as I’m not an archery coach, except to say they were useful to me as a way of understanding the specific issues of archery technique. What they describe as “the wedge”, minimising angles of force acting across joints as far as possible, makes sense to me. Clearly it’s not achievable for everyone, due to differences in anatomy, but an appropriate solution for you is something you should work on with your coach or instructor.
Archery hunting exercises: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=piFvGEL-md0
Another redneck hunter for you. If this man doesn’t get you hyped about stabilising your shoulder girdle, nobody will! To be honest, I’m not too keen on his last two exercises with the ball and the resistance band against the wall – particularly for anyone who might already have a problem. But I do like his bent forward exercises to “pinch” the shoulder blades together. You could do them with a small dumbbell if they feel too easy, but probably they won’t. I also like his straight arm push-up. This is to exercise a muscle called serratus anterior, which attaches to the front surface of your shoulder blades and your ribs at the side. If the side of your shoulder blade nearest your spine tends to “wing” away from your ribcage when you push against the wall or even when you reach forward, this muscle could do with strengthening to provide stability for the other muscles of your shoulder to function at their best. This is a good exercise for that.
Remember, if you have a problem already, it’s always best to get it checked out. Also, I’m not an expert on archery, these are just some thoughts based on knowing about shoulders and how they get injured, and some preliminary investigation into what happens with archers. Please feel free to comment, or get in touch!