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10 Common Archery Injuries and How to Stay Safe


Archery is consistently ranked as one of the world’s safest sports by numerous insurance groups, consumer safety companies as well as the National Safety Council. However, injuries are still possible and it is important to know how to avoid common archery-related injuries and stay safe.

What are the most common archery-related injuries? Injuries to the shoulders, arms, and wrists are the most common, with the muscles in the drawing arm being the most prone to injury. These injuries are often caused by poor technique or overuse and can be compounded by not providing the muscles with enough rest or recovery time.  That’s why it is so important to train your archery muscles.  One FANTASTIC tool for this purpose is the Dry Fire Pro Archery Shot Trainer (check current price on Amazon here).  You can adjust the training weight from 15 lbs to 60 lbs!

Here is the quick list of the 10 Most Common Archery Injuries:

  1. Rotator Cuff Strain
  2. Tendonitis
  3. String Slap
  4. Breast Bruising
  5. Finger Blisters
  6. Hand lacerations, punctures, or tears
  7. Repetitive Strain Injuries
  8. Impingement Syndrome
  9. Adhesive Capsulitis (Frozen Shoulder)
  10. Bone Spurs

The sport of archery is a great deal safer than other popular field sports where participants risk collisions or falls, with archery classified alongside sports such as badminton, bowling and handball in terms of potential for injury.

DISCLAIMER: Before we get started, keep in mind that we here at Archers Hub are not medical professionals. Everything presented here is based on our own personal experience and research and nothing here should be taken as medical advice. You should always talk to your doctor if you get injured doing any sport.

With that, let’s take a look at the most common injuries and how to stay safe.

1. ROTATOR CUFF STRAIN

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles that surround the shoulder joint and stabilizes the shoulder.

As an archer, every time you draw your bow, you put stress on the rotator cuff. Instinctively, the body wants to draw the bow with the shoulder but our shoulders aren’t designed to support that kind of repetitive load bearing. Injuries to this muscle group are typically the result of repetitive strain and poor shooting mechanics.

Symptoms may include:

  • A dull ache within the shoulder
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Disturbed sleep, especially if you sleep on the injured shoulder
  • Arm weakness

Prevention

You can prevent damage and strain to the rotator cuff with proper form. There are several different stances in archery, so you can choose the one you feel most comfortable with, however, you will want to make sure your stance allows the large back muscles to help the smaller arm and rotator cuff muscles when drawing the bow.

Archery is physically demanding and excessive practicing can lead to overuse injuries. If you notice any pain when drawing your bow the best thing to do is give your muscles a break.

If the pain continues, you could try a bow with a lower draw weight. Reducing this weight by even 1lb will make it easier for you to pull back.

2. TENDONITIS

Tendonitis is inflammation of a tendon. While tendonitis can occur in any of your tendons, archers will most commonly be affected in the shoulders, elbows, and/or wrists. In fact, tendonitis of the elbow is so common in archery, the disorder is also called “Archer’s Elbow”.

Bringing your bow to a full draw places a great deal of stress on both your elbows. Typically you will experience pain on the outside of the elbow after shooting, with pain worsening after you straighten your arm and flex the muscles.

Symptoms may include:

  • Sharp pain in the elbow
  • A dull ache, particularly when moving the injured area
  • Tenderness
  • Mild swelling

Prevention

Again, the draw weight of your bow, as well as proper form and technique, are huge factors when it comes to this elbow injury.

Be sure your bow has an appropriate draw weight for your strength and skill level.

Strengthen the shoulder and scapular muscles. Weak muscles are a major contributing factor to Archer’s Elbow. The injury occurs when your elbows and wrists are not strong enough to handle the demanding, repetitive movements placed on them while shooting.

3. STRING SLAP

Arm guards save a lot of pain!

This injury is really just reserved for those in the world of archery, and if you’re an archer you have undoubtedly earned yourself one of these souvenirs. A string slap injury is caused when the bowstring snaps against the forearm when shooting.

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain, tenderness
  • Bruises, welts
  • Swelling

Prevention

Invest in an armguard! The easiest way to prevent string slap is by wearing an armguard. I can tell you that mine has protected me from this injury many, many times.

Maintain a loose grip on the bow, and remember that a death grip is not necessary over-gripping the bow will pull your wrist into the bowstring’s path.

Adjust your form. Proper elbow rotation, a wide stance, and holding a straight posture while shooting will help you prevent string slap.

Avoid fatigue. Fatigue causes bad posture, and as I just mentioned, improper form can quickly result in a string slap injury.

Stance and technique are not always to blame, you may be using a bow with a draw weight that is too heavy. You can either use a lighter bow or build up the muscles in your upper body.

4. BREAST BRUISES

This is essentially a string slap injury to the breast and undoubtedly the reason the mythological Amazons were said to remove one for the sake of archery. Thankfully, there is no need for you to resort to those kinds of extreme measures! Simply adjusting your form to compensate for your assets and wearing appropriate clothing will work wonders to save you from this unpleasant injury.

Again, this is caused when the bowstring snaps against the chest when shooting.

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain, tenderness
  • Bruises, welts
  • Swelling

Prevention

Avoidance again comes back to proper stance and technique. Your posture must offer the bowstring enough clearance upon release.

Also, opting for a supportive sports bra that will help protect your ‘ladies’ is a great idea. Look for a bra with a compressive fit that will offer maximum support for the activity. Also avoid bulky, loose-fitting clothing and choose something snug that will not catch the string on release.

5. BLISTERS ON THE FINGERS

Blisters on the fingertips can form when the skin has been damaged by friction or rubbing against the bowstring.

This is caused by excessive contact between the fingertips and the bowstring on release. Elevating the elbow of your drawing arm too high can cause the index finger to hook deeper and remain on the string slightly longer after the point of release.

Symptoms may include:

  • Blisters
  • Pain, tenderness

Prevention

Avoid using excessive finger tension when hooking the bowstring. Also, be sure you are shooting with your fingers on the proper place on the string.

If your fingers haven’t completely hardened up with callouses and you are still experiencing pain and tenderness on your fingertips, a good pair of archery gloves may be a worthwhile purchase as they will protect your fingers during shooting.

6. HAND LACERATIONS, PUNCTURES OR TEARS

The most common injuries that occur and are not the result of overuse are lacerations, punctures or tears to the hand. The mishandling of broadhead arrows is the primary cause of these type of injuries.

Bowhunters must keep their broadhead arrows razor-sharp, which can increase the potential for injury if proper precautions are not taken. Loading or unloading equipment into vehicles is when many arrow injuries occur. Shooting arrows that are damaged or too short also increase your risk of injury.

Symptoms may include:

  • Lacerations, punctures or tears to the hands
  • Pain, tenderness
  • Bruises, welts
  • Swelling

Prevention

Learn and practice appropriate handling of your arrows. There are many education and training courses available that will teach you how to safely handle and work with your tools.

Use a broadhead wrench. Even the slightest slip when handling an uncovered broadhead can result in a serious laceration. This device covers the blades while a broadhead is being tightened onto an arrow and will protect your hands from injury.

Invest in a covered arrow quiver. This type of quiver will protect both you and your arrows from injury and damage.

Also, use a great deal of caution while you’re dressing bow-killed game as the broadhead may still remain in the animal.

7. REPETITIVE STRAIN INJURIES

As the name suggests, a repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a term that describes an injury to your muscles, nerves and/or tendons caused by repetitive movements and overuse.

Performing repetitive activities, such as archery, can place stress on the muscles, and as more and more pressure is applied the muscle will become unable to handle the load.

Initially, you may only notice symptoms while performing a specific action. However, without treatment, the symptoms could become a chronic injury. This would result in constant or longer periods of pain and increase the time needed to heal.

Archers are most likely to suffer an RSI in their forearms and elbows, wrists and hands, or the neck and shoulders.

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain, Aches or Tenderness
  • Stiffness, Throbbing
  • Tingling or Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Cramping

Prevention

Take breaks regularly. Performing long or repetitive tasks for an extended period of time without a rest is exactly how you end up with a repetitive strain injury! Make time during your practice for short, frequent breaks.

8. SHOULDER IMPINGEMENT SYNDROME

Impingement syndrome is the compression of the tendons and bursa of the rotator cuff between the bones. This common condition causes pain in the shoulder joint, particularly when you lift your arm overhead.

Overhead activity of the shoulder, especially repeated activity, can put you at risk factor for shoulder impingement syndrome.

Over time, impingement syndrome can lead to inflammation of the bursa or rotator cuff, resulting in bursitis or tendonitis respectively.

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain with overhead activities (arm above head height)
  • Discomfort while sleeping at night
  • Aching over the outside of the shoulder/upper arm
  • Limited range of movement

Prevention

The main cause of shoulder impingement is doing too much too soon. When starting archery, or returning after an extended break, ease back into it with a short ‘introduction phase’.

Again, poor posture and technique can also result in shoulder impingement. Improper form reinforces bad shoulder movement that can easily lead to inflammation. Focus on keeping your chest open, shoulders back, and shoulder blades stable as you shoot.

Keep unavoidable inflammation under control. A good habit to get into is applying ice to your shoulder for about 20 minutes after practice.

9. ADHESIVE CAPSULITIS (FROZEN SHOULDER)

Adhesive Capsulitis is a condition characterized by stiffness and pain in your shoulder joint. Risk of developing frozen shoulder is increased if you are recovering from a procedure or condition that has restricted movement of your arms.  It typically develops gradually and consists of three stages. Frozen shoulder will usually develop and resolve within one to three years.

The stages associated with frozen shoulder include:

  • Freezing stage: Range of motion becomes limited, and movement of your shoulder causes pain
  • Frozen stage: Pain begins to decrease, but the shoulder becomes stiffer and more difficult to use
  • Thawing stage: Improvement of the range of motion begins

Prevention

Gentle exercises performed frequently can prevent, and possibly reverse, stiffness in the shoulder. Physical therapy, if started shortly after a shoulder injury in which shoulder movement is painful or difficult, could assist in the prevention of frozen shoulder.

A few helpful stretches are the Pendulum Stretch and a Towel Stretch.

Pendulum stretch: In a relaxed, standing position, lead forward with the hand of the unaffected arm resting on a table. Allow the affected arm to hang down and swing in small circles. Increase the size of the circles as you regain strength and mobility.

Towel stretch: Hold the ends of a towel behind your back. With the healthy arm, pull the towel, and the affected arm, up toward the shoulder. Repeat daily between 10 to 20 times.

10. BONE SPURS

Bone spurs are tiny pointed growths of bone that develop over time. These outgrowths are most often found in areas of the body where injury or inflammation has previously occurred.

In many cases, bone spurs may develop as part of the aging process, however, inflammation, tendonitis or any significant stress on the shoulder joints can lead to the development of bone spurs.

Archers most commonly develop bone spurs in their neck and shoulders as a result of the strain placed on that area.

It is possible for you to have bone spurs and not be aware of them. The bone spur itself doesn’t cause pain, the discomfort is a result of mild or moderate nerve compression from the spur.

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Muscle weakness

Prevention

Take frequent breaks while shooting in order to limit the repetitive strain on your body.

Manage inflammation with anti-inflammatories and ice, and take the necessary time needed to heal after injury.

Treatment

Whether you participate in archery for sport, recreation, or hunting purposes, you are equally at risk of developing an injury.

Seeking treatment early when symptoms begin to present is very important in stopping an acute injury from becoming a chronic injury. Appropriate treatment will not only help you manage your symptoms but will also aid in strengthening the injured area which will help to prevent recurrence of the injury.

Some popular methods of treatment for these common archery-related injuries include:

  • Massage/Soft Tissue Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Cold therapy (ice pack application)
  • Hot therapy (hot pack application)
  • Rehabilitation Services
  • Muscle Strengthening Exercises
  • Range of motion exercises

Getting treatment early will assist your healing and get you back into archery faster with the highest possible level of function.

Staying Safe

Practice good archery form to minimize injuries.

Prevention is the best medicine, so be proactive and strive to prevent injuries.

Remember that though archery does not demand significant cardiovascular conditioning, it does require a great deal of muscular endurance. Strength and endurance, as well as a strong core, are all necessary for power, control, and balance.

Performing stretches and exercises both before and after practice is a great way to warm-up and condition the muscles for the physically demanding sport of archery.

Listen to your body. Being able to recognize when your body needs a little rest is vital to the healing process. Consistently pushing your body too hard and not allowing the muscles to recover can result in a mild cause of inflammation becoming an actual injury.

Always use safety gear and equipment, and remember to check your bow and arrows for signs of damage or wear prior to each use.

As you can see, reducing your risk of injury can be boiled down to smart training, proper recovery and the use of appropriate equipment.

Keep those factors in mind and enjoy many years of safe, injury-free archery.

Related Questions

What Muscles Are Used In Archery?

It is always important to train and strengthen the muscles required to perform the actions of any sport. Therefore, it is important to know which muscles those are.

The main muscles used in archery are the arm, chest, back, and shoulders.  More specifically:

  • rhomboids,
  • levator scapulae,
  • trapezius,
  • deltoids,
  • latissimus dorsi
  • supraspinatus,
  • infraspinatus, and last but not least
  • teres minor

How to Exercise for Archery?

Drawing and holding your bow are specific actions that utilize your muscles in unique ways that differ from regular everyday use or how you might work out them out at the gym.

There is no denying that it would be beneficial to increase your general upper body strength.  Do exercises like lat pull-downs at a machine, pull-ups and chin-ups on the chin-up bar, bent-over rows, and shrugs with heavy dumbbells.

All that being said, actually shooting your bow is STILL THE BEST for training your archery muscles. Simply practice the drawing motion with some resistance to build up those upper back muscles. 

Andrea Little

I’m a contributor to ArchersHub.com, currently living in Ontario, Canada. After a number of years away from the sport, I have recently started shooting again. I enjoy target shooting with a recurve bow, and aim to one year be good enough to go and hunt my Thanksgiving dinner.

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