If you are reading this you are probably pretty serious about fishing. Secondary to that, you probably at one time or another have had elbow/forearm pain due to the repetitive motions required in all our fishing skills. That puts us on common ground. Where I stand in a somewhat unique position lies in the fact that I took some pretty serious anatomy classes in college to the tune of hovering over dead bodies and books for many hours and dissecting human muscles, joints, nerves and organs. Although my life took a different turn and I fish for a living, I still use the valuable information I acquired then and apply it to fishing and everyday life. I also took an academic approach to completely healing a recent fishing related injury that really had me perplexed for a while. Therefore, in summation, I came I saw I recognized and I conquered. Sounds simple, but even with all this information relatively fresh in my brain, I still had a difficult time healing and taking preventative measures during the rigors of a heavy-duty tournament and fishing promotions atmosphere. Here is how I did it and here is a little insight on the background of the injury:
Arguably, the two most common pains associated with bass fishing long hours are lower back pain and forearm pain. I tackled the forearm pain in the last two years, specifically called lateral epicondylitis otherwise known as tennis elbow. Interestingly enough, roughly only 5% of these lateral epicondylitis injuries are associated with tennis. Whether you are a physician, therapist, plumber or outboard mechanic it bothers us all similarly and it comes down to simple physics in how it occurs. The physics of the injury stem from the anatomy of the tendons of all your forearm extensor muscles narrowing down to one common tendon, then crossing the top of your elbow briefly before attaching to the humerus(the upper arm bone) on a bony prominence called the lateral epicondyle. With simple physics in mind, it's just the common pull point that becomes the culprit of pain in most cases. There have been several notable names in fishing that have publicly overcome a serious version of this through surgery, ie. Dustin Wilks, Luke Clausen...ect.
Looking at the slightly more advanced physics gave me the ability to recognize the dynamics of all the "forces" that we encounter as fishermen while on the water. Therefore I must site one of the most recognizable laws of physics by Isaac Newton: an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Let's say that the object at motion (or rest) is the fishing lure. In order for us to accelerate or decelerate the lure we are using, a lot goes into it! Casting, pitching, flipping, braking our cast, reeling, twitching, setting the hook, fighting fish, boat flipping fish,....the endless stream of forces we apply to that lure through our arm then the rod then the line are countless....and they are all unbalanced. Even deadsticking a bait requires us utilizing our forearm muscles against the forces of gravity and the weight of the fishing rod/reel. The muscles of our forearm take the brunt of this and most importantly the zone that is effected is the attachment at the lateral epicondyle on the elbow.
Therefore, as humans we find easier ways. I don't mean sitting on the Bill Dance seat and trolling across the lake aimlessly and when a fish bites an electric wench reels them in...although for some that is what it may mean. What I mean is we either consciously or subconsciously do things to avoid the reoccurance of pain. Consciously we do things like trying to better balance our fishing rod/reel setup or make it lighter weight-wise, avoid lures and fishing styles that would exacerbate the problems, or simply not go fishing as often. We also consciously apply ice, stretch before use, functionally warm up before use, massage the problematic areas before and after use, take NSAIDS to decrease inflammation, even exercise to strengthen the area. Then sometimes comes the cortisone shots by your doctor. All highly recommended by anyone with any knowledge of treating acute muscle/joint injuries, but really not preventative. The subconscious is where we sometimes create further problems. If you are not subconsciously applying the forces to that lure the correct anatomical way because of an injury or pain, then somewhere else is picking up the slack and all that leads to other problems in the form of shoulder, neck or back pain. Without getting into that, the message is to not band-aid the problem because it will lead to other problems down the road. The solution that worked for me is slightly multi-faceted because it used a conglomerate of conventional methods, but really not that difficult to understand now that I have encountered it and keyed on one valuable component. In my opinion, the key component(the tennis elbow strap) simply slightly changes the physics of the forearm extensor tendons and allows healing to take place. If pulling from one angle is repeatedly causing inflammation and problems, then slightly change the angle and apply a little pressure like the pressing on the frets of a guitar..... and add a little time..... and you have a recipe for hope, healing and success. The pressure part is otherwise known as "counterforce bracing", which is referenced in the article I link to on the bottom of this document. That is theorized as: the pressure on a string at a certain location lessens the pressure on the same string more distal to it (like fingers pressing on the frets of a guitar). I was doing a little of both, pressure and angle changing. So I have just a slightly different spin on it. The biggest factor is the element of time, and proper healing takes time and letting the strap do its thing.
A little side note worthy of discussion: The extent of the injury one may have should always be taken into account. Recently I read about some great fishermen like Stephen Browning and Edwin Evers have gotten Platelet Infusion Therapy which in a nutshell is a nonsurgical procedure that uses the injection of your own blood to heal injured tendons. This is an unbelieveable advancement in medicine but should be looked at only as a later option for a pretty severe injury and is not necessarily preventative. So the method that I am going to discuss would be contemplated well before the point of extreme pain.
The origin of my personal injury was from numerous tournaments and the associated practice periods on bodies of water that have tons of fish catches. Also the methods/styles of fishing were kind of tough on the human body, ie ripping a crankbait/rattlebait out of the grass, snapping a heavy jig out of the grass...ect. Sounds like fun, but we as anglers are athletes and putting 2 tournaments 2 weeks in a row on fish factories like Pickwick and Guntersville is a recipe for injury disaster. It may save some gas, but not medical bills. It's like CC Sabathia pitching two or three nine-inning games in a row with a pitch count of 1000 each game! My condition was also exacerbated because I was training for a marathon on the side and really didn't take into account that high-mileage running accounts for as many active arm swings as it does steps/strides. This active arm swing with my thumb pointed up is really the same motion(with less weight) as jigging with a fishing rod in hand. No breaks, meant no time for healing. Also, two things that additionally scared me was the fact that I knew the more pain I had over a duration of time meant that more scar tissue was forming causing more permanent damage. So always be aware of your other(other than your tennis) everyday activities and how they effect your condition. I was doing all the right things like rest, ice, massage and anti-inflammatories and nothing worked. The stubborn yet educated sceptic that I am made me brush off the advice of my wife and her co-workers about the tennis elbow strap. I also practiced with my 70 year old buddy Bean Lefebre at Lake Champlain and he wears tennis elbow straps for years when fishing and has completely alleviated the problems he once had. I just couldn't get what it actually does, and really found it difficult to find any solid information on the straps other then the coined phrase, "it alleviates arm pain associated with tennis elbow". Basically it was mostly taboo to me and other researchers, because extensive research cannot directly correlate a fix for all cases. Well I am here to tell you as a opinionated professional fisherman who knows a bit about anatomy, that it works, maybe not for everyone but it did for me. But you don't just put the strap on and "Presto" it heals you. You need to wear it during all fishing activities and and other rigorous exercise or motions that involve your arms, at least until you don't have pain. I wore it pretty tightly, yet comfortably, an inch or two away from(distal, toward my hand) the point of pain on my elbow. I also felt it was important to have the raised pad on the inside of the strap pressing firmly on the body of the extensor muscles (location of the pad was key). I went through several different brands and straps and the one that worked best for me is the Cramer Tennis Elbow Strap. It is comfortable while fishing and serves its purpose. This is a relatively thin (not wide, about 1.5 inches)) strap which allows for more motion in fishing and doesn't hurt or bind up when you set the hook. I ironically bought it from the Sammons Preston catalog, a medical equipment catalog I used to order from frequently when I worked for a medical equipment store. And for the record, I have no affiliation with any of this stuff so I am not selling you anything. Lastly, in an attempt to tie this to the beginning of this rant I am on, what I feel this strap does is: by tightening around the body of the forearm muscle it slightly changes the angle of the tendon as it inserts to the bone at the lateral epicondyle, and adds pressure to the "string". This alternative route of the tendon in essence somewhat bypasses the original problematic route and "allows the area to heal" or "alleviates symptoms associated....yada yada" (sound familiar). Therefore, all the forces you have to consciously and subconsciously apply to that lure via tendon and muscle are detoured in a relatively pain free route for a bit until further notice, yet still get the job done. Again, some science to this but it is still my opinion/theory just like others say Vitamin C helps with cold prevention or fish don't see flourocarbon line so you get more bites. Fortunately, doctors and therapists keep selling and recommending these straps so they must be working out there for others like me. There are surely a lot of other neurological and musculoskeletal theories of what is going on with forearm straps and/or pressure to the muscle/tendon by taping and so forth, all of which are true to some extent. Some have tested numerous subjects and have found results to be somewhat definitive, yet not totally conclusive. The reality it that it works for a good bit of people to alleviate symptoms of lateral epicondylitis pain, but not all. Also it should be used in conjunction with other modalities such as ice, massage and NSAIDs to aid in the road to overall recovery. Most importantly, as I stated before, it can be used as a preventative measure to some extent as well if detected and addressed early on, but you have to stick with it.....all that hopefully gets us healed and back to fishing! I am currently 100% forearm pain free in all fishing activities, running, weight lifting,....no pain! Hope this helps you! Thanks for reading and take care....
Here is a good link I found that also has some other related links in the response section at the bottom. I like the guitar string correlation:http://www.mikereinold.com/2009/07/are-tennis-elbow-straps-effective.html
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