by Steve Dullack
I am currently on the shelf until late June with no racing until late July at the earliest because I had double shoulder surgery last week. Injury prevention is a GREAT topic. The good news is my surgery was all arthroscopic to repair micro tears to both labrums and nothing had to be rebuilt or reconstructed and the surgery went great. But I learned a lot over the last year plus about injury, training while hurt, and recovery from injury.
We talk a lot about the muscles we use in paddling. Any paddle based water sport focuses on training your body to use the big muscle groups over the small ones. We have all started some sort of new fitness regime in our lives and once you get through the first few weeks of muscle soreness you adapt to the training and start making progress. What we don’t talk enough about (in my post-surgical opinion) is the impact all this has on our connective tissue/ligaments/tendons/joints/etc.
Often, when we are either starting a new training regime or ramping up our current program, our muscles will adapt after a few weeks and it is easy to think we are good to keep pushing pushing pushing. But it important to remember that ligaments and tendons do not strengthen at the same rate muscles do and they do not RECOVER at the same rate either. That is but one of the many reasons periodized training is so important. It gives your connective tissue a chance to catch up and rest because it is during REST that your body parts recover and become stronger.
Most of the tissue in your body is made up of two basic proteins, Collagen and Elastin. The ratio’s of these differs between each: muscle (more elastin), tendon (more collagen than bone, not as much elastin as muscle), ligament (more collagen than tendons, not as much as bones) or bone. Tendons attach muscles to bone. Ligaments connect bone to bone to form joints — such as knees, elbows, hips and ankles.
Tendon development doesn’t happen as quickly as muscle development but is quicker than ligament or bone development. Ligament and bone components are typically estimated to take about 6 months to adapt to constant or repeated strain on the system. Tendons closer to 3-6 months. Muscle closer to 1-3 months. Of course this depends on your training, age, nutritional intake, and a bunch of other factors. Part of the problem is that connective tissue is avascular – they have very little blood flow. Blood brings the nutrients and supporting cells that help perform repairs to traumatized tissue. Muscle is well supplied with blood and so can recover quite quickly. Connective tissue … not so much.
So now what…You just started this awesome new program. You may be a little sore from the increased workload but that will go away eventually. How do you protect your connective tissues while they catch up to your muscles? Think of tendons as a pulley system between your muscle and bone. MORE IMPORTANT than “strengthening” them is proper alignment and ergonomics. If there is a flaw in your technique such as torque, twist, position, rotation, gravity . . . you can tear or inflame connective tissue or worse…have tears over time. One of the reasons I am such a big fan of video analysis is because injury-inducing flaws can be identified before they cause injury.