Jamie Wykes Hobday, Personal Trainer November 01, 2016

It happens to us all. You have just finished training for the evening, you go to bed, wake up the next morning and OUCH! You hear a crack, or a pull or a strain. Joint pain is certainly something that everyone in their sporting, fitness, or general lifestyle has experienced at one point or another. But what exactly is joint pain? And why are we begot with it on a regular basis?

Joint pain is a form of inflammation or infection at the joint site, and if not treated correctly can lead to extreme severities and detrimental effects to the joint itself. The pain within the joint can occur at any site point whether it be the ankle or knee, all the way up to the shoulder and elbow. Joint pains can also be described as or referred to as ‘arthralgia’. Pain is also a feature of joint inflammation (arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis) and infection, and extremely rarely it can be a cause of cancer of the joint. Pain within the joint is a common cause of shoulder pain, ankle pain, and knee pain.

What does this have to do with rowing?

With over 350 million clubs spread across the UK, rowing is an extremely popular sport, participated in by people of all shapes, sizes, genders, races, ages, and abilities. With Sport England funding the sport itself with over 17 million pounds in recent years, there is clear intent from the UK to keep the sport growing and increasing in popularity. However, due to the nature of the sport and the impacts often involved, rowing and joint pain often go hand in hand.

For various reasons such as inadequate technique, poor fitness levels, physiological limitations, or overtraining, rowing can be one of the sports most commonly associated with joint injuries. With reference to the previously mentioned causes overtraining, or overuse as it is commonly known, would have to be the predominant cause of injury due to the repetitive movement and lack of variation involved in the strokes. In 2007, at the Junior World Championships, a study by Tomislav Smoljanovic, Ivan Bojanic, and Jo Hannafin revealed that 73% of injuries were reported as overtraining injuries.

Due to the mechanisms of the movements involved, the most common joint injury site points are the wrist (gripping too tightly on the oar or large handle sizes), ankles, shoulder (muscular imbalances and poor scapula retraction mechanisms), hip (poor technique), knee (poor posterior/anterior lower body flexibility), as well as the ribs and back (poor core stability and tight posterior chain). Due to the numerous sites of potential pain mentioned, injury prevention in rowing is a vital consideration to anyone taking part. If you’re an avid rower, common injuries to watch out for include: thigh strain, tennis elbow, rotator cuff syndrome, pinched nerves, piriformis syndrome, and many more.

Instabilities, swelling, stiffness, a lack of full range of motion at the joint, and in some cases dizziness are all common symptoms of the above mentioned injuries. If you start experiencing any of the above seek help and advice from your coach or a medical professional.

A rower’s diet can make all the difference

Whilst there are no magical foods that will prevent joint injuries from occurring, what we can do as athletes, is eat enough calories on a daily basis, and ensure that we are getting enough calcium to meet our requirements. Whilst there are a vast array of micronutrients that will benefit joint performance, calcium is one which stands out against those that we naturally get from food sources. Calcium is a key micronutrient when considering essential bone density health. Whilst the RDA for adults is 800mg, most UK adults fail to achieve this level through their diets. This can be quickly overcome before evolving into a calcium deficiency which will cause increased injury likelihood. Seek to consume 3 portions of foods high in calcium, such as cheese, milk, yogurt. If calcium requirements are still not met, seek a calcium supplement to aid this process.

When training excessively in a sport such as rowing, it is absolutely detrimental to performance if we do not consume enough calories. If you do not calculate what your requirements are as an athlete, your body will enter a catabolic state where the body will begin to burn muscle tissue: wearing away at the vital muscles rowers need to sustain performance. Catabolism can also slow down recovery, which will gradually lead to increased injury likelihood. As a suggestion, if you do not know how many calories you need, consult a qualified nutritionist or health expert and seek help, before reaping the rewards.

How can supplements help?

Glucosamine and chondroitin can be effective supplements in the management of joint pain for rowers. Glucosamine is a naturally occurring substance and is available in synthetic forms with an effective absorption rate to the body.

There are two forms of glucosamine: hydrochloride and sulphate. Glucosamine benefits the health of cartilage in the body, and as we know cartilage is vital as it gently protects the cushions the joints and bones. Furthermore, as we grow older, our levels of naturally occurring glucosamine decrease gradually which can lead to joint damage. Taking a glucosamine supplement as we get older can help prevent these breakdown levels. Whilst dosages will vary depending on body size, type, age, and severity of injury, it is suggested to consume the orally ingested supplement alongside food.

Chondroitin is also a naturally occurring substance within the body and is organically found around the bone cartilage. Consuming chondroitin will prevent the breakdown of cartilages within the body and prevent diseases such as osteoarthritis. As an orally ingested supplement, it is implied that we should take 400mg three times per day.

Taken together, glucosamine and chondroitin can be an extremely effective compound in the prevention of injuries for rowers and their joints. Together they can aid them to become stronger and more resilient to the strains rowing training may cause: a consideration for anyone serious about the sport. Take care of your joints, with safe training, diet, and supplementation and you will no doubt see your rowing performance continue for years to come, and even improve.

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Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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