Casting doubt on a serene sport

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 freshwater.

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 sports."

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.


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Lee Bowman covers health and science for Scripps Howard News Service






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