Written by: Jon Hartwick, Physical Therapist
A common injury frequently encountered by fly fisherman is rotator cuff tendinitis or rotator cuff impingement. This occurs due to the close proximity of the rotator cuff tendon and the “bony roof” created by the acromion (part of the shoulder blade) and clavicle (collar bone). Due to a lifetime of poor postural positioning and the development of muscular imbalance, the act of casting a fly puts the rotator cuff in a susceptible position to be impinged upon by the “bony roof”. This creates an irritation and inflammation, or worse, a rotator cuff tear. There are two ways to help deal with this scenario and not give up your passion for fly fishing.
First, consult with your physical therapist to help identify the root cause of your problem which may include limited range of motion in your shoulder or spine, poor scapular muscle function or rotator cuff weakness. Manual techniques and specific exercises can be prescribed to help with these issues. Second, alter your casting technique by using your whole body to help cast and not just the shoulder and elbow. Keeping the elbow near your hip as it moves forward and back (“On the shelf”) and pivoting your body will allow for the back cast and forward cast to be performed without having the arm and shoulder in a position to become impinged and lessens the load on the rotator cuff itself. For more specific instructions on this casting technique described by Lefty Kreh from his book “Casting with Lefty”, please ask the front desk.
Shoulder pain does not need to stop you from hooking the big one. With a little exercise and some modified casting techniques you will be well on your way.