Story by Lee Bowman
It's perceived as the ultimate
stress-buster, but it turns out that fly-fishing is just about as
hard on the back, arms, wrists and elbows as more competitive
sports like golf, tennis and baseball, according to a new study.
Dr. Keith Berend, chief orthopedic
surgery resident at Duke University Medical Center and an avid fly
fisherman, used an online and in-person survey to study the
fishing habits and health of 131 adult anglers.
He found that 69 percent of the
fishermen reported lower back pain, up to 25 percent reported
pains in their hands, wrists, shoulders and knees and 18 percent
reported elbow pain.
Berend presented his results
Thursday at the annual meeting of the Southern Orthopedic
Association, being held in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
"The sport of fly-fishing is
growing in popularity, and this study was an attempt to get a
better handle on the types of maladies we are seeing more often in
orthopedic clinics," Berend said. "The results
demonstrate that these maladies seem to mirror those seen in
other, more studied recreational activities."
Berend explained that the
repetitive motions involved in keeping a lure far away from the
fisherman and keeping it active to mimic a live insect or bait,
leads to the same sorts of shoulder, elbow and wrist complaints
heard from tennis and baseball players.
"Simply put, repetitive
motions in general can cause problems," he said. "It is
even worse if this repetitive motion -whether during fishing or
tennis -occurs intensely and sporadically, like the typical
weekend warrior. Staying in shape on a continual basis should help
reduce the level of these pains."
Different casting techniques can
also create shoulder pain, just as pitching a baseball the wrong
way can lead to injury. The study found that frequent saltwater
fishermen, who typically use heavier gear, had much higher rates
of shoulder and elbow pain than did anglers who stuck mainly to
Berend wants to study further the
mechanics of casting and the effects on shoulder muscles. "We
hope to be able to come up with strategies to prevent or reduce
pain and increase performance, like we have done for other
The reasons for back and leg pains
are more complicated, Berend explained.
Many fly fishermen stand on rocky,
uneven surfaces in fast-moving water for long periods, which can
put stress on the legs and back. Also, since they stand in the
middle of the stream, they carry a lot of gear in vests.
"Some fishermen load their
vests with too much weight to save trips back to the shore, while
others wear vests that don't equally distribute the weight across
the body," Berend said.
For his study, Berend posted a
notice on the top 10 Internet sites visited by fly-fishing fans,
inviting them to take part in the survey. During a one-month
period, 89 anglers completed the questionnaire.
To test the results, Berend took
surveys to a meeting of the North Carolina chapter of Trout
Unlimited, a national conservation group. Another 42 anglers
completed the same survey. He found there was little statistical
difference in the age or prevalence of physical complaints between
the two groups.
Surprisingly, though, Berend said
there was no correlation between the number of days a year people
said they fished, and the pain they experienced, nor was there any
relationship between age and the physical complaints.
On the Net: http://www.mc.duke.edu
Lee Bowman covers
health and science for Scripps Howard News Service