FishAbility for Maine Fishermen: Fishing and Tendonitis

By Brie Weisman, Occupational Therapist
Also published by
Commercial Fisheries News

Tendonitis is tendon irritation or inflammation caused by repetitive motion. Better known as tennis elbow, it can affect any joint. Symptoms include tenderness, swelling, stiffness, weakness in the affected area, as well as numbness and tingling in extremities.

Fishing is the very definition of repetitive motion for prolonged periods and those involved are at high risk. And they may find themselves suffering from tendonitis for the first time after years of the same activity, as aging tendons lose elasticity.

The good news: tendonitis usually resolves within three weeks when you listen to your body and address symptoms promptly. Common home treatments include applying ice to reduce swelling; non-prescription medications to reduce pain and swelling, and allowing ample recovery time.

If symptoms don’t resolve in a few days, consult a physician. Untreated tendonitis may bring worsening pain and stiffness that require a specialist’s attention or even surgery.

Once you’ve had tendonitis, take steps to avoid its return:

  • Avoid highly repetitive or pain-inducing motions.
  • Rest from repetitive tasks by alternating with other work.
  • Alter your technique. Lead with the other foot or hand, or stand an inch or two closer to the work.
  • Stretch throughout the day. Limber bodies resist injury.
  • Start a strength training program. Strong bodies resist injury.
  • Use ergonomically correct positioning and tools.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that over 70,000 people miss work annually from tendonitis. Watching for early warning signs and adjusting your work habits and environment will prevent you from becoming one.

Keeping it Local with Dana Morse

Fisherman bending over the side of boat hauling up an oyster cage
Photo credit: David Gray

Dana Morse, Extension Associate, Maine Sea Grant College Program and The University of Maine Cooperative Extension since 1998. He has a graduate degree in Marine Science, with a background in fishing gear technology and commercial fishing. He’s been oyster farming since 2014.

Tell me about your Oyster farm

My partner’s a 73 year-old retiree, who I met through an oyster educational program. (laughs) Only one of our four boats is operational, Saltwife, a 24’ Carolina Skiff. We started with 5000 seeds and we’re up to 150,000 with 20-30,000 available for the rest of the year–we’re a small operation.

What’s hard about the work?

Cages get dirty, and can weigh 30-45 pounds. General maintenance and husbandry, leaning over, lifting and flipping bags on deck, un-ergonomic lifting. I got bad tendonitis from splitting and stacking firewood that affected my oystering. It took a year to resolve.

What adaptations have you made?

I’m going to set up a system where I’ll only hook one line of bags at a time, reducing the need to reach. We invested in a pretty heavy-duty davit and hauler to manage the bottom cages, that’s helped a lot. Eventually, working off of a float would make it a lot easier.

What surprised you about Oyster farming?

The work’s pleasant even when it’s cold, windy, and rainy. You’re on the Maine coast–how bad can it be? It’s a ton of work, but it’s enjoyable. It feels good to carry a bag into a restaurant, saying, “Here you go, I grew these.”

What new equipment do you like?

Grundens makes a hooded anorak with neoprene arms. Favorite piece of clothing ever. Water proof, windproof, good zipper.

What’s the one thing you can’t leave the dock without?

When we’re harvesting – a cooler. Oysters can cut your hands to shreds… so, gloves. And a hat.