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Thread: Instructions on drawing a bow to eliminate shoulder pain (long post)

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    Instructions on drawing a bow to eliminate shoulder pain (long post)

    In my 10+ years now as a Physical Therapist and being an archer since I was 5 years old I have tried to mend the two and see what I can come up with to help other archers. I have treated many shoulder problems and see common complaints from archers about shoulder pain developing as a result of shooting a lot.



    Recently, I have developed shoulder pain while shooting anything over 30 arrows and, at one time, anything over 5 or 6 arrows would greatly inflame my shoulder to a point where I needed to rest it about 3 or 4 days before trying to shoot again. I have read everything here in regards to drawing a bow with back tension and I like the technique, but it has never helped my shoulder in regards to shoulder pain (trust me in saying I was doing the technique correctly). I have a theory as to why it did not help me and I will explain this later.

    I have developed a technique that has really helped me and its based off multiple things 1) Believe it or not, pistol shooting 2) my education in biomechanics, orthopedics and experience in physical therapy for 10+ years now 3) my own shoulder pain and experimentation with what has worked for me. So I am going to explain this technique and would want to see if it helps those that have shoulder pain, either significantly decrease it or eliminate it totally, if it is solely caused by drawing and holding the bow.

    To understand this technique to you have to understand the shoulder girdle and ways to stabilize the shoulder joint. The best way to stabilize the shoulder joint is to squeeze your shoulder blades down and backward. In doing this, you tie in your shoulder blade to your thoracic (torso) cage, making it part of your core musculature and it is very stable here. Most people that have shoulder pain have anterior shoulder pain from lack of lower trap, latissimus and middle trap contraction helping to stabilize the joint. This makes the bicep try to work as an anterior stabilizer of the shoulder, when it shouldn't work in that fashion. The biceps tendon gets very inflamed from impingement because the joint is allowed to elevate too far and pinch on the tendon.

    One way I demonstrate this is to have someone lie on the ground face up and raise their arm up to the ceiling. Now, have another person try and pick that person up off the ground from their arm. You can see that their arm is very loose and their body slightly rotates when you pick them up off the ground, very unstable position. This is how most peoples shoulders are when trying to draw the bow. Now, lower them, have them raise the arm again, but this time squeeze the shoulder blades together (down and backward) and keep them like that. Now try and pick that person up and see what results you get. You will see that the person comes up as one now, no rotation, to protraction in the shoulder and the shoulder is very stable with the contraction of the lats, middle and lower traps.

    Based off this concept this is how I draw my bow now and it has eliminated my shoulder pain completely. Its based off a push/pull technique developed in pistol shooting off the Weaver stance and the concept of stabilizing the shoulder BEFORE you draw. In pistol shooting, one technique used while shooting is pushing with one hand and pulling with the other creating dynamic tension which stabilizes the gun very well during recoil. So the draw technique I came up with is basically pushing with one arm and pulling with the other but stabilizing (retracting the shoulder blades down and backward FIRST), which differs from the back tension release (BTR). BTR wants you to use your middle trap to draw the bow, but it doesn't stabilize your shoulder from a biomechanical standpoint. The middle trap/rhomboid is a stabilizer, not a prime mover of your shoulder, thus it should not be used as a prime mover in drawing your bow, IMO.

    So here is the technique, basically your stance is the same, you bring your bow up to shooting level with bow arm bent, squeeze your shoulder blades together FIRST to stabilize, then push with the bow arm extending the arm and pushing away from you with your chest and simultaneously pull your drawing arm backward to full draw, keeping your shoulder blades retracted the entire time until releasing the arrow. This way you stabilize your shoulder BEFORE even drawing the bow and using push and pull technique with opposing forces your essentially draw the bow using both sides of your body. Bow arm will use the pectoral muscle or chest and tricep, and drawing arm will use the latissimus, middle trap and bicep. Both shoulders are really stable and not allowed to go into areas they shouldn't causing impingement issues.

    Try it and see if it works for you.
    Last edited by Raven1911; April 29th, 2008 at 11:00 AM.


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    Thanks for the helpful and timely post! I'm just getting into archery and bowhunting... took a few into lessons and can't wait to get my own equipment. I was disappointed that my shoulder was sore after each session so far - seemingly not muscle sore, but join sore... maybe from an old lacrosse injury. I was afraid maybe my archery experience would end before it even started.

    It has been very hard to find alternate drawing methods. Can you perhaps give a little more detail about the positioning of each arm/elbow during your method? Is the bow to your side, or more in the middle of your chest when you start? Perhaps a link to a few pictures or a video clip might help.

    Are there any other alternate methods of drawing? I have tried to use my back muscles, but it seems my shoulder is in a very vulnerable position at the beginning of my draw - I believe as you explained. It makes a lot of sense to draw with both sides of the body, not just one.

    Is my pain normal? Do you think this method will help? Any other suggestions or questions?

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    Quote Originally Posted by ColeSlaw View Post
    Thanks for the helpful and timely post! I'm just getting into archery and bowhunting... took a few into lessons and can't wait to get my own equipment. I was disappointed that my shoulder was sore after each session so far - seemingly not muscle sore, but join sore... maybe from an old lacrosse injury. I was afraid maybe my archery experience would end before it even started.

    It has been very hard to find alternate drawing methods. Can you perhaps give a little more detail about the positioning of each arm/elbow during your method? Is the bow to your side, or more in the middle of your chest when you start? Perhaps a link to a few pictures or a video clip might help.

    Are there any other alternate methods of drawing? I have tried to use my back muscles, but it seems my shoulder is in a very vulnerable position at the beginning of my draw - I believe as you explained. It makes a lot of sense to draw with both sides of the body, not just one.

    Is my pain normal? Do you think this method will help? Any other suggestions or questions?
    I am a right handed shooter, so my left hand (bow arm) has the elbow bent and my hand is very close to my chest at the start. I shoot a release, so with my right hand, I grip my release extremely tight before I draw, which research shows increases the strength and stability in the shoulder. I basically push with my left arm and pull with my right arm horizontally with the ground until full draw is met. Remember to retract your shoulder blades before drawing to stabilize your shoulders. In addition, the very tight gripping of my release on my right arm helps stabilize my shoulder even more.

    In answering if the bow is to your side or more in the middle of my chest, I guess that depends on your stance. If you have a closed stance the bow will be more to the outside of your chest, open stance means the bow will be more toward the middle of your chest.

    Unfortunately, shoulder pain is a very common complaint with very few treatment options besides rest. It is my opinion that the act of drawing a bow (especially with too high a draw weight) puts undue stress to the shoulder, especially if you do not stabilize your shoulder blade as I described in the post above. The other problem is the holding position of the draw. Your shoulder is in excessive extension and this places enormous stress to the joint capsule. To better illustrate my point read this article on benching and lat pulldowns.

    http://www.chekinstitute.com/articles.cfm?select=26

    The concept is the same as in drawing a bow, so you are stressing the joint capsule and one common way your body defends that is to fire the biceps tendon to help stabilize your shoulder joint. This makes for an inflammed biceps tendon that is in the front of the shoulder, which is the common complaint.

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    Ty - this is very interesting. You know, the way you describe above for avoiding problems is exactly how I shoot my traditional bows, but I shoot my compound bows the "bad" way. I wonder if it has anything to do with instinctively anticipating letoff - my current bow, a Martin Moab, is very smooth, but I have shot dual cams in the past where I felt like I needed to really brace that left arm out and do all the work with my right arm. And I don't think that abrupt drop into full draw was all that good for me, either. You should post this in the general discussion area as well. This definitely gives me a lot to think about. -JAG

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    Quote Originally Posted by DrJAG2 View Post
    Ty - this is very interesting. You know, the way you describe above for avoiding problems is exactly how I shoot my traditional bows, but I shoot my compound bows the "bad" way. I wonder if it has anything to do with instinctively anticipating letoff - my current bow, a Martin Moab, is very smooth, but I have shot dual cams in the past where I felt like I needed to really brace that left arm out and do all the work with my right arm. And I don't think that abrupt drop into full draw was all that good for me, either. You should post this in the general discussion area as well. This definitely gives me a lot to think about. -JAG
    Andy - I would say that it very well might be that you are anticipating letoff. I think most people control let off with their bicep, which of course, fires it more and it becomes more dominant in the draw and hold. I would be interested to see if this helps your shoulder issues. Try it, just make sure when you hit the wall to concentrate on holding with your middle and lower traps NOT your arm or bicep.

    I was thinking of posting this in the general forum but figured posted it here to be safe. I might just do that right now

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    Yeah, I have been working hard on that upper trap dominance problem, and I'm making good progress with it. It's really funny how much differently I approach shooting the two kinds of bow. The new Moab maxes out at 60% - the bows I make never go higher than that - no reason to for what I'm doing. I learned the longbow draw from Rod Parsons - I need to apply that approach to the wheels. Thanks for posting this.

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    BTW, after thinking about it, none of my true trad bowyer friends ever complain about shoulder problems, and many of them are shooting heavy, heavy bows with no letoff - we're talking 80# hunting bows to 120#+ warbows. All of these guys use the opposing force method of drawing and shooting, and all of them shoot a LOT. In fact, if you look at the guys drawing the warbows, this is exactly what they have to do. If you drew a 120# bow like most draw a compound bow, your shoulder would probably tear off.

    I also went to a seminar this week on preventing and treating youth shoulder injuries from baseball given my a local PT/licensed trainer who coaches in my league. One thing he talked about was the imbalance created from throwing and the need to work on the shoulder in the opposite direction of throwing. Would this same principle apply to drawing a bow, i.e., with all the pulling with one arm/shoulder and pushing with the other one, do you need to really work on those opposing muscles to create balance?

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    Quote Originally Posted by DrJAG2 View Post
    BTW, after thinking about it, none of my true trad bowyer friends ever complain about shoulder problems, and many of them are shooting heavy, heavy bows with no letoff - we're talking 80# hunting bows to 120#+ warbows. All of these guys use the opposing force method of drawing and shooting, and all of them shoot a LOT. In fact, if you look at the guys drawing the warbows, this is exactly what they have to do. If you drew a 120# bow like most draw a compound bow, your shoulder would probably tear off.

    I also went to a seminar this week on preventing and treating youth shoulder injuries from baseball given my a local PT/licensed trainer who coaches in my league. One thing he talked about was the imbalance created from throwing and the need to work on the shoulder in the opposite direction of throwing. Would this same principle apply to drawing a bow, i.e., with all the pulling with one arm/shoulder and pushing with the other one, do you need to really work on those opposing muscles to create balance?
    YESSS!! Absolutely, that is why Gray Cook is always about scapular stabilization with the lower trap!

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    Ty,

    Thanks for posting this. However, do you know what it means if this doesn't work?

    Recent x-rays show that I don't have an impingement or spurs, but my shoulder still has pain even when drawing per your instructions .

    I know you can't diagnose over the internet, but do you have any suggestions on what I should look for?

    Thanks,
    Allen

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    Pictures!!!

    Here is the draw with pictures...
    Going left to right: first picture is relaxed shoulders. 2nd pic is shoulders squeezed together BEFORE the draw. 3rd picture is the start of the draw (notice my bow arm tucked pretty tight to my chest), 4th pic simultaneously pull back with string arm and push forward with bow arm, 5th pic is just about at the wall of my draw.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by Raven1911; May 4th, 2008 at 05:42 PM.

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    more pictures

    Here you go...
    1st pic is the finish of the draw and 2nd pick is taking aim.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by Raven1911; May 4th, 2008 at 05:43 PM.

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    more pics

    Backview...
    Attached Images Attached Images

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    last one

    last pic...draw finished.
    Attached Images Attached Images

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    Great photos! They explain your technique very well.

    How is this different from setting the bow arm straight then drawing? How is this easier on the shoulder muscles and tendons?

    Thanks,
    Allen

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    Quote Originally Posted by AllenRead View Post
    Great photos! They explain your technique very well.

    How is this different from setting the bow arm straight then drawing? How is this easier on the shoulder muscles and tendons?

    Thanks,
    Allen
    Allen,

    When you set your bow arm straight, even if you retract both shoulder blades before the movement you are purely drawing with your release arm only, which puts tremendous exertion on the drawing shoulder. In the technique above, both arms work simultaneously to do the draw together while completely stable. Its always better to disperse between multiple body parts rather than just one, especially when it comes to the shoulder.

    I am no professional when it comes to draw technique, but from what I have seen here on AT, there are many people that have way too long a DL which puts them in too much extension at their shoulder stressing the front of it.

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    Raven-
    Thanks for the pics - worth 1000 words. Had my last lesson in a 3-pack yesterday. Was able to incorporate some of the things you talked about - very little shoulder soreness today! So excited & encouraged! I was not able to try the push/pull b/c my instructor would not step outside his box. I could really feel the stabilization increase from locking shoulders & from griping the neck of the release aid tightly. Once I get my new bow, hopefully soon, I'll try following your technique more.

    Question: Do you also tighten your grip with your bow hand prior to drawing to help further engage your stabilization muscles in your bow arm shoulder? From your pics it seems like your bow hand was tense initially until mostly through your draw. (Tried that during lesson too, but instructor nearly lost it. I realize instructor is trying to install good habits and a repeatable shooting sequence, but from my perspective I'd rather have a modified sequence and have a shoulder left to shoot with than have a textbook sequence.)

    Thanks!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Raven1911 View Post
    The middle trap/rhomboid is a stabilizer, not a prime mover of your shoulder, thus it should not be used as a prime mover in drawing your bow, IMO.
    +1 I've been thinking the same thing.

    After a year's worth of PT classes, I started shooting the same way: setting my scapulas first, then pushing and pulling with both arms through the draw. Holding your scapulas in place feels awkward at first, but as my strength has improved and my body has become accustomed to the motion and contractions, it feels more normal.

    Imagine my surprise when I saw this thread! PT minds must think alike.

    Raven...pm incoming.

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    How's your shooting?

    I injured my shoulder in December, went to physical therapy for a couple of months and was ok'd to resume activity the end of March. I shot reduced poundage and was doing pretty well but I might have pushed it in Redding. Okay, I pushed it. I want to try your technique, but I also want to be a good shot. Are you shooting consistent groups with the new method? I want to be able to shoot 'til I'm 98 at least, so preserving my shoulder is a great idea.

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    Never mind the question about how your groups are-I tried your technique at the range today. It feels so much better than drawing back the "other" way-and it didn't affect my form as I'd imagined it might.

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    From looking at your front shoulder at full draw it looks as if it is higher than your draw shoulder which will cause it to fatigue very fast. I like to set my front shoulder in and back retracting the scapula and keeping my bow arm straight before I draw. Drawing this way allows me to draw with the right side of my back while keeping my front shoulder in the proper position. Pushing with the front arm on the draw will put that shoulder in a bad anatomical position more often than not. If you watch the pros do it they do it how I described and some of them practice by shooting over 200 arrows a day without shoulder issues.

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    There are many techniques to drawing a bow. I would assume an instructor only knows form and not biomechanics, which is a problem. I think the fact that people are blindly going off form is a major reason why so many people have shoulder problems that shoot. Like you said, I think you need to listen to your body over what the instructor is telling you because you will not have a shoulder left if you continually use form that irritates your shoulder, despite it being "good form". The technique I came up with is very unconventional and most people will probably frown upon it, but its taken directly from most of my sports conditioning and orthopedic background and is sound. These are techniques that NFL players and professional athletes use on a regular basis. So why not archery??

    My bow hand is tense when I draw and then relaxed at full draw for proper aiming. I think the tension really helps stabilize the shoulder, which is why I do it.

    Quote Originally Posted by ColeSlaw View Post
    Raven-
    Thanks for the pics - worth 1000 words. Had my last lesson in a 3-pack yesterday. Was able to incorporate some of the things you talked about - very little shoulder soreness today! So excited & encouraged! I was not able to try the push/pull b/c my instructor would not step outside his box. I could really feel the stabilization increase from locking shoulders & from griping the neck of the release aid tightly. Once I get my new bow, hopefully soon, I'll try following your technique more.

    Question: Do you also tighten your grip with your bow hand prior to drawing to help further engage your stabilization muscles in your bow arm shoulder? From your pics it seems like your bow hand was tense initially until mostly through your draw. (Tried that during lesson too, but instructor nearly lost it. I realize instructor is trying to install good habits and a repeatable shooting sequence, but from my perspective I'd rather have a modified sequence and have a shoulder left to shoot with than have a textbook sequence.)

    Thanks!

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    If you think about it the drawing technique is different but you end up with the same aiming form as you do a traditional draw. When I am at the end of my draw, my bow hand is relaxed, shoulders ALWAYS squeezed together and my right drawing hand is still gripping the release. My groups have stayed the same, but my shoulder pain is gone when I shoot now. Basically I am holding the draw with larger muscles (traps), fatigue less and shake less. Breathing is key to all aiming as well, IMO.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rose-n-Arrows View Post
    I injured my shoulder in December, went to physical therapy for a couple of months and was ok'd to resume activity the end of March. I shot reduced poundage and was doing pretty well but I might have pushed it in Redding. Okay, I pushed it. I want to try your technique, but I also want to be a good shot. Are you shooting consistent groups with the new method? I want to be able to shoot 'til I'm 98 at least, so preserving my shoulder is a great idea.

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    Retracting the scapula is actually the form that I am using. I just use it differently from the start of the draw. My shoulder is completely retracted right from the start to tie the shoulder complex into my torso making a solid stable platform from which to do motion. Your dominant shoulder will depress more so it will look lower when both are retracted and depressed. Take a look at your relaxed shoulders in the mirror, one will be lower and it, most likely, is the dominant shoulder.

    My scapula are completely retracted BEFORE I draw and kept that way the entire draw to the hold. That is what makes this technique different from conventional back tension. However, retraction is what stabilizes your shoulder. I have no shaking problems when I shoot. Also, pushing with the bow arm does not put it in a bad anatomical position, the shoulder is at its most stable position when the shoulder blade is retracted and depressed. It is no different than a dumbell bench press motion or any pushing motion, unless you think that is a bad motion for your shoulder? My philosophy is why draw the bow with one side of your body when you can use both sides, distribute the load on your body more evenly and use larger muscles to draw the bow? In drawing the bow with one side most people do not stabilize the shoulder blade correctly, but use the shoulder stabilizers to draw the bow, which is not their function and most likely results in microtrauma to muscles, tendons and ligaments of the glenohumeral joint.

    Regarding the pros, I highly doubt there has been a pro out there that has never had shoulder problems when shooting. Also, most pro target archers are not shooting the poundages most of us shoot while hunting, which makes a big difference as well. Draw weight is a big factor as well.


    Quote Originally Posted by shmook View Post
    From looking at your front shoulder at full draw it looks as if it is higher than your draw shoulder which will cause it to fatigue very fast. I like to set my front shoulder in and back retracting the scapula and keeping my bow arm straight before I draw. Drawing this way allows me to draw with the right side of my back while keeping my front shoulder in the proper position. Pushing with the front arm on the draw will put that shoulder in a bad anatomical position more often than not. If you watch the pros do it they do it how I described and some of them practice by shooting over 200 arrows a day without shoulder issues.

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    I spent the last weekend at the in-laws' in PA setting up and tuning my new Moab. I must have shot a couple hundred arrows a day for four straight days. I followed your instructions, which are very close to what I have always done with the longbow. I won't say my shoulders didn't get fatigued, but they surely didn't hurt - ok, by the fourth day, my left shoulder was very minorly sore, not to be unexpected from somebody who has not drawn a bow since last October. You know what else, my upper back feels a LOT looser than it did before my marathon.

    Now you need to come up with something to prevent the tendonitis in my left elbow.........

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    Exactly!!!

    How does the push-pull method affect the left elbow (which has caused me much trouble from Day 1 and prevents me from pulling more that 50#)?
    .
    OK, so my comment didn't add any significant wisdom to this discussion. But it DID up my post count, and pretty soon I will be regarded as a wise, experienced expert based on that alone.

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