Form for avoiding biceps tendonitis?

General discussions about getting and staying fit that don't relate directly to your indoor rower
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Form for avoiding biceps tendonitis?

Post by Launce » February 22nd, 2018, 5:29 pm

I do most of my rowing on water. But I figure this issue is generic, indoor or outdoor.

I'm sixty-nine years old, and have been rowing for around twelve years. I row for fun, although I do participate in races (if you call coming in last "participating"!).

For the past year, however, I've been plagued with pain in my left shoulder that won't go away. I've seen three orthopedists (plus two PT docs), and I won't go into the long, frustrating story (wouldn't it be great if all experts agreed?).

The short of it is that I had a touch of frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis), which is getting better with stretching PT exercises. And also some inflammation of the supraspinatus tendon, which responded to a cortisone injection. But some kind of painful lump wouldn't go away.

But, the fourth orthopedist, whom I just saw, identified a new issue, which the other docs had missed: biceps tendonitis. And that makes a lot of sense to me, because the pain always felt like the trigger-finger issue I had with my index fingers –- an inflamed tendon knot passing through a narrow space (in this case, the bicipital groove). And now that he showed me, I can feel the inflamed tendon on the front of my shoulder.

So he gave me a cortisone injection in the long-tendon sheath, and I have high hopes that it will fix the problem.

But, looking back, this is an issue that I've encountered periodically over the years.

So here's my question (yes, there is a question!):

Assuming this works, is there any way I can avoid re-injuring the biceps tendon in the future? (None of the doctors had specific experience in rowing injuries, and there is no local rowing–injury specialist that I can consult.)

My hypothesis is that the injury is occurring at the catch in the rowing stroke, especially if I'm competing [sic] and I'm pulling with some force.

As I understand it, "proper" form at the catch is to keep the elbows locked, and pull in a legs/back/arms sequence. But I'm wondering if that's just the best form for performance. I could care less about performance (sorry!), and I'll gladly sacrifice performance for injury prevention. I missed out on a whole season of rowing, and it sucked.

So my thinking, in terms of form, is to disregard proper form, bend my elbows slightly at the catch, and let my muscles serve as shock absorbers -- figuring that stress on muscles is less likely to lead to long-term injury than direct stress on unprotected tendons and ligaments.

But maybe that's wrong. Maybe using my biceps as shock absorbers will tend to re-injure the biceps tendons. In which case I should continue to lock out my elbows at the catch and just focus on making the catch smoother so I'm not yanking my shoulders.


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Re: Form for avoiding biceps tendonitis?

Post by edinborogh » February 23rd, 2018, 5:55 am

very interesting recount, and thanks up front for being clear and sharing your experience, feelings and thoughts. i am not an expert rower nor a medical authority, but i started rowing and for 4 months i couldnt get acceptable form and i went through all the pains imaginable - lower back and back side mainly. i think that form is not just for efficiency but also for minimising injury.

i got knee Cartilage problem, and it caused me pain. a lot of pain. so much so that i positioned my legs in a way that would ease the pain but as a result i got my knee ligaments highly inflamed. i had a surgery last December, was away from the rower, gained weight and was very miserable.

my doctor said that stretching before rowing, doing proper warm up and cool down, and listen to my body should help me avoiding such incidents.

i dont know if it helps but thats what i can share with you.
so far i have been rowing for a bit over a week and there is no pain.

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Re: Form for avoiding biceps tendonitis?

Post by Dangerscouse » February 23rd, 2018, 11:18 am

Very entertaining post.

I haven't ever suffered from this issue, but I would have suspected that you need keep the transition from catch to drive as smooth as possible. Are you pushing enough with your legs, or is it more of a yank?

What df are you rowing at? Maybe lower it down?
44 Years Old; 6' 4"; 95kg; Liverpool, England 2k= 6:38; 5k= 17:29; 6k= 21:54; 10k= 36:21 30mins= 8,264m 60mins= 16,317m HM= 1:18:40; FM= 2:49:39; 50k= 3:28:18; 75k=5:29:15; 100k= 7:52:44; 12hrs = 153km

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Re: Form for avoiding biceps tendonitis?

Post by Launce » March 10th, 2018, 2:09 pm

Thanks for the comments.

I think I have been yanking my shoulders at the catch, the transition between the drive and the recovery. I get into rowing hard, and really driving with my legs, but I think I start the legs a bit too soon and a bit too hard -- and my shoulders are playing catch-up. I'm thinking I should slow that transition just a tiny bit, and let my arms engage and settle in before really pushing with the legs.

I suppose, since we're talking about a biceps tendon, the problem could be at the end of the drive, when I bring my arms to my chest. That's logical. But somehow it just doesn't seem that that motion is putting a lot of stress on the tendons. And if that's the problem, I don't see there's much I can do, except ease off a bit.

It''s been two weeks since the cortisone, and the pain I had for over a year is gone. I'm doing physical therapy, and can't wait for the water to warm up a bit more.

Oh, and with respect to df, I'm rowing on water so I don't have much choice there. But I am thinking I might try a higher stroke frequency with somewhat less power, so I can ease the strain on the tendons, without reducing speed too much. Sort of like "spinning" on a bicycle.

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Re: Form for avoiding biceps tendonitis?

Post by jamesg » March 13th, 2018, 5:17 am

Oh, and with respect to df, I'm rowing on water so I don't have much choice there.
You can adjust the gearing by moving the buttons and chopping lumps off the ends of the blades. New sculls start large, Olympic size which is 100 kg, 6'6, then we cut them down to make them manageable. The catch in a 1x can be very quick and hard thanks to hatchets and boat dynamics, so we have to take it a little more carefully. Water is hard stuff. Watching scullers from abeam they're never in any hurry at the catch.

I too had shoulder problems with tendons fraying, but sooner or later they break and cause no further pain. I do some simple exercises to strengthen all the other shoulder MTUs so that I can do without.
77y, 188cm, 85kg, MHR 160. Last 2k (May 1018) 8.37@23

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Re: Form for avoiding biceps tendonitis?

Post by doc2018 » March 19th, 2018, 7:30 pm

i have been experiencing bicep problems too. i am interested in knowing what physio exercises were suggested to you and did they help. thanks for keeping me updated.

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