Sure, it’s only June, but if your anything like most bow hunters you are probably already practicing for September in the elkwoods. As early spring shed hunting winds down and April snow has finally stopped piling up outside, thoughts drift to cool mornings, warms days, and bugling elk on the horizon. Whether your motivation is the time spent in Montana’s wilderness, the comradery of friends, or filling your freezer, the first step in getting there is practicing your shot. For most, shooting is an obsession; from daily repetition to consideration of arrow weight/width to the right wrist (or hinge, or back tension!) release, to peep placement and let’s not forget self-mantra’s like aim….aim…aim… . This obsession seems to increase in correlation to the number of podcast’s listened to about bow hunting (thanks John Dudley and The Gritty Bowman).
One overlooked issue for bow hunters that affects shot practice and perfection is shoulder pain. It’s easy to think that turning the poundage down, or not drawing back as far or taking time off will fix the problem, but what do you do when that doesn’t help (which most of the time doesn’t)?
The shoulder is a complex of joints (3), muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are referred to in Physical Therapy, very fittingly, as “the shoulder complex”. It requires precise mobility, stability, strength, and timing for optimal movement and performance. Most of our daily tasks are completed in front of us and are done in poor posture *cough*, which tends to stiffen the muscles on the front of our shoulders, especially our chest muscles. This head forward, slouched position contributes to many shoulder issues including the classic rotator cuff (not cup) impingement, posterior capsular stiffness, and weak rotational force production. Try it yourself, sit in really bad posture, I mean really sloth it up… now keeping that position, raise your arms… take note of their position. Now, sit up in your best posture and raise your arms. Big difference huh?
Excellent shooting form requires good end range rotational motion of the shoulder and adequate extension in the horizontal plane. Both of these motions can be limited from a lifetime of stiffness, poor posture and lack of attention to our mobility and strength of the shoulder. Posterior shoulder stiffness, referring to excessive stiffness in the muscles and joint capsule on the back part of shoulder and shoulder blade, is an issue that over time can cause pain in both the front and the back of the shoulder and essentially weaken the shoulders’ ability to produce force, like pulling a bow back.
While you may be able to limp along at a lower draw weight or limiting draw length for awhile, you are really just compromising your performance (potentially missing that bull because you can’t hold the bow long enough for him to turn his head away) and putting yourself at risk for an injury that could be season ending. Consider talking to your Physical Therapist about ways to improve your shoulder mobility, stability and strength, to make sure you aren’t left just thinking about September while your friends are out in the elkwoods pursuing their goals.
Fawn Lintner, PT, DPT