FishAbility for Maine Fishermen – Knee Pain

By Brie Weisman, Occupational Therapist
Also published by
Commercial Fisheries News, May 2021FishAbility, Fishing for a Lifetime, part of Maine AgrAbility

Knee pain is common in the fishing industry. Whether from an acute injury like a tear, or from a chronic issue (arthritis for example), fishing with knee issues makes for a hard day.

Working on the sea means fishermen have better balance than many landbound workers, but the conditions that bring this ability also bring risk of injury. A quick motion to regain balance or recover from a slip, especially at the end of a long day, can end in sudden knee damage. Long days in motion on a deck give joints relentless beatings.

Fortunately, there are prevention strategies and work modifications fishermen can use to reduce the risk:

  • Invest in good boots: better traction and stability reduces slipping and ankle rolling. Good footgear pays for itself with the single injury you avoid. And they feel better!
  • Use anti-fatigue mats. Fatigue = more accidents.
  • Use anti-slip surfaces.
  • Improve knee stability: exercises like squats will strengthen quads and protect knees.
  • Maintain knee range of motion through exercise and stretching.
  • Be mindful of your posture. Bowing forward increases knee strain.
  • Talk to a therapist about taping a weak or injured knee.
  • Apply RICE to swollen joints: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
  • Apply moist heat to ease arthritis pain.
  • Watch your weight. Leverage and motion mean one extra pound produces four pounds of joint strain.

The above are general tips. Always talk with your doctor about your specific injuries or complaints. And remember: waiting to address knee pain not only prolongs the pain and recovery, but it is also likely to lessen productivity and increase the chance of further damage. Your body is not only your most important tool, it’s the one you can’t leave behind after work–treat it with respect.

lobsterman repairing traps in a workshop
Photo credit: Linda Greenlaw Wessel

Keeping it Local

Linda Greenlaw Wessel, lobsterman, oyster farmer, charter boat captain and author in Surry, Maine.
How long have you been fishing?

I have been fishing since I was a young girl.  I started going offshore for swordfish at the age of 19.

What do you fish?

I have fished for sword, tuna, halibut, groundfish and squid.  I have fished the North Atlantic from Brazil to Labrador, and the Indian Ocean from Kenya and Somalia to the Maldives.

What is the most physically challenging part of your job?

Probably the most difficult thing is being 12 hours on your feet on a moving platform for 30 to 40 day trips. Second hard thing is handling boxes of bait that can weigh 100#s. I can get bait on my boat myself, but that’s a hell of a lot of work. It was easier when I was younger and stronger. I used to say I had my own ways of doing things as a woman, now I have old woman moves. I fish smaller traps, lift with the help of my sternman, slide items when I can, and use cushy mats in the captain and sternman areas to reduce wear and tear on my knees. My right knee gets gimpy, and I was hobbling around at the end of last season.

Thing she would not leave on the dock:


Favorite equipment:

My skiff. I just love the feeling of riding in a skiff. It is very simple to get into in the morning and  It takes you back to your childhood. Gets you feeling like a kid again!