Archery is one of the world’s safest sports, and archers suffer few sport-related injuries. Even so, shoulder injuries happen occasionally. But you can prevent them by following some easy guidelines.
As a USA Archery para coach with Level 4 National Training System credentials, M.J. Rogers understands biomechanics and works regularly with archers who have disabilities. Rogers said injuries to the rotator cuff are archery’s most common problem, but they usually take a while to sideline archers.
“People often ignore the discomfort until it’s too late, and they need orthoscopic repair,” Rogers said.
You can prevent shoulder injuries by regularly exercising your rotator cuffs. Rogers recommends a simple exercise using a light stretch-band anchored to a wall. Next, pin your elbow to your side and keep your forearm at 90 degrees. Stand sideways to the wall with your chest parallel to the stretch band. Then pull the stretch band outward away from the wall by pivoting your arm at the elbow until your hand is perpendicular to the wall.
You can also ensure injury-free shooting by always drawing your bow efficiently and engaging the proper muscles. Rogers said the body naturally tries to draw the bow with the shoulder, but putting that full load on the shoulder can cause harm. Shoulders aren’t designed to support repetitive load bearing.
The key to drawing a bow correctly is transferring the load from the shoulder to the lower trapezius muscles, which extend from behind the neck to most of the upper back. To learn the proper bow-drawing technique, take lessons from a certified coach. Rogers uses a drill to teach archers the technique.
First, bring your hand to your face as if you’re anchoring. Next, use your other hand to grip your drawing hand to prevent it from moving. Then move your drawing elbow back, which gives you the feeling of transferring the load to your back muscles.
Also be sure to warm up before shooting to keep your muscles loose. Proper stretching is a key to preventing shoulder injuries.
“Instead of pulling a stretch band with your hand, pull it with your elbow,” Rogers said. “That helps reinforce the proper drawing motion.”
Equipment plays a role in keeping your shoulders healthy. Shooting a bow with excessive heft and draw weight can injure your shoulder.
“You need enough mass weight to dampen the bow’s movement, but too much is detrimental,” Rogers said. “If you can draw back, maintain good form and count to 10, that’s good. If you can count to 30, you’re golden.”
If you’re trying to extend your shooting distance or increase arrow speeds, you might be tempted to boost your draw weight beyond your current capabilities. Rogers reminds students that accuracy isn’t all about speed.
“Understand how to perform, and the accuracy will be there no matter how fast the arrow,” Rogers said. “A slow hit is much better than a fast miss.”
If you’re already experiencing shoulder pain, don’t worry. There’s hope. Rogers recommends taking time off, consulting an occupational physical therapist, and possibly an orthopedic surgeon.
Taking time off is important, but most archers struggle to back off. “One of the biggest issues in any sport is jumping back in for fear you’ll lose your skills,” Rogers said. “That can cause serious setbacks for their recovery. Err on the side of caution and patience. I’ve seen too many instances where people just want to rush back in, but the setback is just awful.”
Therefore, strive to prevent injuries by being proactive. With exercise, and proper form and equipment, you’ll enjoy many years of healthy archery recreation. To get great coaching and equipment advice, visit an archery store near you. You can find one here.