Hey Look, I've Hooked a Back Spasm!

Fly-fishing can take a toll on out-of-shape anglers

FRIDAY, July 5, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Can too much casting leave your body reeling?

It's possible, says an orthopedic surgeon who warns that fly-fishermen are developing their own set of health problems that could keep them from their beloved sport.

Doctors are seeing more cases of "fly-fishing elbow," "stooper's back" and "caster's shoulder," says Dr. Keith Robert Berend of Duke University Medical Center's Division of Orthopaedic Surgery. "People need to train to do this sport just like if you're going to play golf or tennis. You need to engage in stretching and conditioning year-round."

Berend is a fly-fisherman himself, and became interested in the topic of fishing injuries while spending time at lakes and hearing from others in pain.

"I thought there was something here between my father, who is an avid fly-fisherman and has back pain, and the amount of off months I spend in the fly shop drinking coffee and listening to people talk about their ailments," he says.

Fly-fishermen use fake flies as bait and cast them into the water with long, lightweight fishing rods. "Traditionally, it was something your grandfather or father passed on to you," Berend says.

The sport has grown in popularity since the 1992 Robert Redford/Brad Pitt movie "A River Runs Through It," which featured fly-fishing. Now, people fish for all kinds of fish using fly-fishing techniques, Berend says.

However, fly-fishermen have found that casting can strain their bodies. They typically make several practice casts before actually hurling the fly into the water. "It's a repetitive-motion sport that loads the body's upper extremities and the trunk, much like other sports like tennis and golf," Berend says.

To check on the prevalence of injuries among fly-fishermen, Berend surveyed 131 fishermen through e-mail and by polling a fly-fishing club. The findings appeared in a recent issue of the Journal of the Southern Orthopaedic Association.

Fifty-nine percent of the fly-fishermen reported lower back pain. Saltwater fishermen had the highest rates of shoulder and elbow pain (31 percent), while trout fishermen were most likely to report wrist pain (31 percent).

Fly-fishermen must understand they need to condition themselves and stay in shape to avoid muscle aches and pain, Berend says.

"They need to realize it's a repetitive-motion sport that deserves to have conditioning and training, just like any other recreational sport they might be involved with," he says.

What To Do

Learn more about fly-fishing from fly-fishing.com, or flyfish.com.

SOURCES: Keith Robert Berend, M.D., Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.; Journal of the Southern Orthopaedic Association
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