As a reminder, the mission of my business, is to help keep surfers in the water longer in life. That said, it is important to address biomechanical breakdowns, imbalances, or preventable conditions that can help others achieve this goal.

While there is some consideration that every athlete has adaptations to help them perform better (eg. professional baseball players have significantly increased external rotation range of motion in their shoulders compared to their internal rotation), it is unknown what adaptations are successful, and what adaptations are maladaptive in surfers that will lead to injury.

Outlined below are some of the most common maladaptive movement patterns found in surfers that I encountered at this past week’s event

Men:

  1. Decreased external rotation through hip of back/rear surfing leg.
  2. Decreased hip extension through hip of back/rear surfing leg, resulting in increased thoracolumbar extension of the spine.
  3. Over development of the rear leg’s lateral quadriceps (*vastus lateralis), and under development of vastus medialis, adding increased risk to valgus stress forces imposed upon the knee during arial maneuvers or when driving down the wave.
  4. Decreased dorsiflexion of rear surfing leg/ankle, with accompanying knee pain.

Women:

  1. Overuse of upper trapezius and levator scapulae muscles
  2. Generalized weakness throughout scapular stabilizing musculature (rhomboids, mid trap, upper trap), resulting in overuse of upper trapezius and rotator cuff musculature
  3. Generalized complaint of tension headaches following upper trapezius patterns.

These findings are not surprising, especially in light of James Furness’ s recent study, Retrospective Analysis of Chronic Injuries in Recreational and Competitive Surfers: Injury Location, Type, and Mechanism. In this study he outlines Knee, Back, and Shoulder injuries as being the most common among surfers. However, in this study, a delivery of care to change these types of chronic injuries was not addressed.

With the impending Olympic inclusion of surfing, it would be beneficial to develop some injury prevention strategies for our younger athletes, as well as address our older surfing population with the same types of injuries.

Some tools that could be used would be the FMS (Functional Movement Screen) or SFMA (selective movement functional assessment) which are movement screens used in many other Olympic sports to prevent injury (eg: football, weightlifting, golf, and in the US Military to name a few). Additionally, education to surf coaches world-wide regarding the nature of these injuries would help in establishing injury prevention training programs.

It was amazing getting to participate as a physical therapist at the #ISAJuniorWorldChampionships, and  I hope that some of my findings will help in guiding/ growing the sport as we move towards a better surfing future.