Dragon boat racing is one of the fastest growing team water sports. Although the activity started over 2000 years ago in ancient China, it only recently became a competitive sport. Given that 8 to 10 paddlers compete in small boats and 18 to 20 participate in standard boats, understanding the incidence and types of injuries in dragon boat racing is important for both the athletes and sports medicine providers who treat them.

Dragon boating requires athletes to perform repetitive paddling motions during training and competitions that can lead to overuse injuries. It also requires tremendous athletic ability including power, flexibility and endurance.

Statistics on injuries in dragon boat racing

A study published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine recently described injuries in dragon boat racing. The research offers important findings on injuries in the sport that can help us design strategies to prevent them.

Are injuries in dragon boat racing common?

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In a survey of 95 athletes who competed in the National Dragon Boating championships in Singapore, Swarup Mukherjee and other researchers found these injuries in a single season:

99% of injuries occurred during training rather than competition.
Female dragon boaters had a higher injury rate than male athletes (2.14 injuries/1000 training hours in female versus 1.7/1000 training hours in males).
• The lower back comprise the most common injury location (22.1% of all injuries). The shoulder was second (21.1%).
• Muscle-tendon sprains made up about half of dragon boating injuries (50.5%).
• Non-musculoskeletal injuries are common in dragon boat racing. Over 90% of competitors suffered skin abrasions, and almost 80% suffered blisters.

Based on these findings, I think there are some ways athletes competing dragon boat racing can prevent, or at least decrease, these injuries.

Female dragon boaters should engage in regular strength training.

Males in this study more often lifted weights as part of their out-of-water training. It could be one reason that male athletes had a lower injury rate in the study. Since so much power must be generated by muscles of the shoulder and back with the paddling motion, resistance training could better prepare these muscles and lower the risk of shoulder and lower back muscle and tendon strains.

Tips to prevent injuries in dragon boat racing

Proper technique is critical.

As with any sport that involves performing a motion over and over, overuse injuries occur in dragon boating. It is important that each paddler learns and practices ideal paddling technique to minimize abnormal stresses delivered to bones, muscles and tendons where they shouldn’t be.

Wear sunscreen.

Since practices can last for several hours, each paddler can receive a significant amount of ultraviolet radiation. They can suffer sunburns and increase his or her risk of skin cancer. Applying sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before practices and competitions and reapplying it as needed during the training is important.

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Incorporate core stability into your training
Learn proper techniques before bad habits develop

Don’t train through pain.

Overuse injuries often result from too much stress on a part of the body without enough time to rest. Often an athlete notices mild soreness as the stress builds up. If he takes a day or two off early in the development of pain, he might avoid making the injury worse. If pain continues despite a short period of rest or activity modification, then the dragon boat racer should think about seeing an orthopaedic surgeon to have the injury evaluated.

Mukherjee S, Leong HF, Chen S, Foo YXW, Pek HK. Injuries in competitive dragon boating. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine 2014 2.