Though archery is deemed to be one of the safest sports to indulge in, archers are not free from the risk of injuries. According to the Oslo Sports Trauma Research Center, archers are more prone to upper-body injuries than other athletes.
Sports physicians attribute the common reasons for upper body injuries in archery to:
- Poor technique
- Lack of body strength
- Lack of adequate rest or recovery time to muscles.
Among all the upper-body injuries, the most common and probably the most painful one is the neck tension.
This article will discuss in detail the 4 main causes of neck tension while drawing and aiming in archery and the ways to prevent it:
Common Reasons for Neck Tension in Archers
It will take some time to get accustomed to the right posture & the best practices when you begin shooting. But the key is to start doing it correctly from the beginning to reduce the risk of injuries.
1. Excessive Use of the Upper Trapezius Muscle to Draw
Shoulder muscles play an essential role in archery as it is the muscle group (Archery Muscles) that helps you draw the bow. The primary archery muscles are the rhomboids, levator scapulae, trapezius, deltoids, latissimus dorsi, and the rotator cuff muscle group, which includes the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and teres minor. Out of the muscles mentioned above, the upper & lower trapezius helps get the required recurve to your bow. So, what essentially happens is beginner shooters tend to use the upper trapezius muscles too much, which causes Neck tension. Excessive use of the upper trapezius can be either because of improper technique or not being strong enough that your body uses the upper trapezius to generate sufficient force to get enough recurve.
Prevention: Use the lower trapezius and the levator scapulae muscles to draw
The key to correctly drawing the bow is not to rely too much on the upper trapezius muscles that cause neck tension. Instead, one should learn to use the lower trapezius and the levator scapulae to achieve the required recurve. Well, this is not easy as it might sound to be, it is going to take a lot of practice to get it right. Practice by using a band (without a bow) to mimic the draw in the beginning. Ensure that you properly align your shoulders and pull the band without engaging the upper trap/neck muscles. It is advised to seek the help of a coach to learn the right technique.
2. Incorrect Technique to Achieve Back Tension
Back tension is the elephant in the room when it comes to archery. It is what holds a bow at full draw while you aim and release. Though it may seem to a beginner that adequate back tension is all about strength, it isn’t. Yeah, strength does play a significant role but having the right technique is probably more important. It's quite natural to see people conjuring up an image of using the whole back muscles to achieve back tension. Well, that isn't the case!
The key to achieving sufficient back tension is to use the rhomboid muscles & levator scapulae. Both the major & minor rhomboids, along with the levator scapulae, aids the movement of the shoulder blades. While the rhomboids are responsible for retracting or pulling the shoulder blades toward the spine, levator scapulae pull the shoulder blade inward and upward toward the base of the neck. It is important to have adequate strength and the knowledge to use these muscle groups to avoid neck tension & other injuries.
Prevention: Learn the proper technique to achieve back tension using rhomboids & levator scapulae
It is important to learn the proper technique to achieve back tension without straining your archery muscles. Start by using a stretch band to learn back tension rather than a bow. Pull your stretch band like how you would draw your bow. When your elbow rotates around your head, ensure that you feel your shoulder blade move closer to your spine. While this is something you can practice on your own, we recommend you seek the help of an archery instructor.
3. Rotator Cuff Strain
Rotator cuff muscles are a group of muscles, namely Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor, and Subscapularis, that keep the ball of your upper arm inside the shoulder socket. These muscles are what help you raise and rotate your arm. When an archer draws his bow, their rotator cuff muscles experience stress. Irrespective of how much one trains, rotator cuff muscles are not capable of handling repetitive load-bearing. This is where having the right posture and the use of the right muscle groups come into play. An incorrect technique in drawing the bow can cause injuries to the rotator cuff muscles. Once these muscle groups are injured, your body tends to compensate by using muscles in the neck, which causes neck tension.
Prevention: Use a comfortable stance
The key to avoiding rotator cuff strain is to use a stance that is comfortable for you. This is where having an archery coach can come in handy as they can watch the movement of your muscles and suggest a stance that allows your large back muscles to help the smaller arm and rotator cuff muscles when you draw your bow.
4. Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)
As the name suggests, repetitive strain injury is caused by repetitive movements and overuse of muscles and tendons. While archers are most likely to get RSI in their forearms and elbows, wrists, and hands, they are also vulnerable to RSI in the neck and shoulders.
Prevention: Get enough rest
Archery is a physically demanding sport, and it is vital to take regular breaks. Ensure that you take short & frequent breaks while you practice. Another important thing to keep in mind is to use good quality equipment & accessories. Start by investing money on a custom bowstring that can come in handy for better performance. Apart from improved stability and consistency, custom bowstrings also ensure less strain to your archery muscles.
We hope this post could help you understand the four common causes of neck tension while drawing & aiming in archery. As said earlier, the key to avoiding neck tension & other injuries is to learn the proper techniques from a coach & practicing it.
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