Fly fishing and shoulder pain

This post is for those fly-fisher men and women out there. Fall has come to Southwest Montana and with it comes not only great opportunities to fish a dry fly, but also the opportunity to chuck some hefty streamers at large, aggressive brown trout. Now, if you are anything like me, your casting shoulder is a little worn out from an epic summer of tossing dry flies, and the thought of picking up your 7 weight to chuck big articulated streamers might be a scary one. And if you are anything like me, you will ignore what your body is trying to tell you and hit the river in search of a trophy anyway. While I commend you for this, shoulder pain is not inevitable and it can be effectively addressed. 

The shoulder is a complex joint. It has a massive range of motion and relatively poor stability. Because of this, the shoulder joint is prone to injury. This is especially true with a demanding sport such as fly fishing that requires the shoulder to manage precisely timed motion in an overhead position. The most common injuries seen in a fly-fisherman’s shoulder are impingement syndrome and rotator cuff muscle strains. Impingement syndrome occurs when the bone in your upper arm approximates with the acromion of your scapula, causing pinching of the tissues between. This generally presents as pain in the anterior/superior shoulder when the arm is elevated to make a cast. The more you cast, the worse the pain gets. If left alone, this can eventually lead to damage of the pinched tissues and prevent a person from casting secondary to pain. 

Rotator cuff strains are a slightly different diagnosis, though the two often overlap. The rotator cuff is actually four small muscles that are responsible for ensuring that the large bone of the upper arm articulates precisely with the socket of the shoulder joint. Strains of these muscles often occur when these muscles are routinely over-worked or when the shoulder has to manage a large load in an elevated position. Fly-fishermen and women are exposed to these situations regularly, leading to pain and lost days on the river.

If you personally have lost days on the river secondary to shoulder pain, get an appointment with a therapist at APRS Physical Therapy. We are staffed with personable, highly trained therapists that speak the lingo and would love nothing more than to discuss the streamer bite with you while solving your shoulder issues.  We will provide you with a personalized strategy to eliminate your pain and get you back to lobbing 80 foot double hauls on your favorite river. Good luck this fall and tight lines!

Taylor Chadwick, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Board Certified Orthopedic Specialist

Dr. Taylor Chadwick is a Gallatin Valley native who grew up fishing the waters of Montana. When not fishing or hunting Taylor enjoys working with patients who enjoy getting out and living life!