Although archery is a relatively safe sport, if performed with negligence or without attention to personal safety it can prove dangerous and lead to serious outcomes that may end even in hospital. The most common incidents involve hands, arms and shoulders, Some of these are fairly simple, such as blisters and string strikes to the forearm, but the rest have the potential to turn serious if not dealt with quickly.
You might avoid most of these injuries by perfecting your stance, working on your form, and following the advice given by experienced archers who have seen and learned a fair share of this harsh "injury business" by their own backs, arms and elbows - talk to a club/range coach as he/she would know where and how to guide you in order to keep you safe.
You should also refrain from overworking your shoulders and arms, keep the draw weight at a comfortable level (avoiding bows with inappropriate - too heavy - draw weight, as well as exercising your shoulders, back and arms.
They are the daily bread of every archer, happening to beginners and experienced people alike, occurring whenever the string "strikes" the chest or the inside of the bow arm. Although they are not very dangerous nor will they result in more than a bruise, nevertheless often quite painful.
This usually happens when something - a body part to be precis - gets in the way of the bowstring after it has been released, and usually the result of bad form or incorrect stance, however incorrect brace height can be a contributing factor.
You should also watch out for too loose clothing, especially sleeves or, as I have sometimes seen, an unzipped/unbounded hoodie or jacket.
The simplest solution is to invest in an arm/chest guard. These pretty much eliminate one's chances of receiving any string blows - but watch for the appropriate size. You should also wear tight clothing and a good sports bra. This stuff is cheap to buy and handy if you're just starting out. Ensure you have the correct posture and work on your form, and most importantly always use the bow that is sufficient to your capabilities, never over-bow yourself.
Blisters forming on fingers
Most people starting out in archery don't expect to get blisters on their fingers, but as many of us have found out, it's quite possible, especially on hooking fingers.
Blisters are nothing more than pockets of water or blood that can appear as dark red patches on the fingers and occurs when the skin is separated internally. This happens to owe to the friction that takes place between the bowstring and the hooking fingers - when they are placed incorrectly on the bowstring, or remain there for too long, causing the string to rub violently against the skin.
Hence, this can also happen if you work out for a long time in one go.
The best way to prevent blisters just as with string blows is to work on your form - hooking the string in the right place will make this injury less likely, but if you are a novice to the sport it can take some time to master it. In this case, using a tab or archery gloves can mostly solve the blister problem. However, you need to get the right size and thickness for your bow weight. Some archers I know wrap their fingers with sports tape under their gloves.
Before we move on to more serious injuries, it is necessary to mention the importance of warming up before - let's face it - any archery activity, be it a practice on a Saturday morning or a major national competition!
Injuries to the rotator cuff
The rotator cuff is a cluster of four muscles and their respective tendons located around the shoulder joint. Unsurprisingly, this area is susceptible to injury when doing archery.
When a bow is consistently drawn, it puts pressure on the archer's muscles and strains them. Over time, one may feel a dull throb of pain around the shoulder area and the range of movement may be impaired. So, if you experience such symptoms when pulling the bow, take a break and allow the muscles to relax so as to prevent injury.
Some archery stances contribute to rotator cuff damage, so choose a comfortable stance with the correct drawing technique. Make sure you always use your back muscles to reduce the pressure on the shoulder. Having a consistent shoot routine and proper stance, transfer and release will help lessen the chances of muscular injury. Once an archer has perfected their shooting the risk of injury is lower. Talk to your club coaches for advice and assistance on these matters.
You can regularly exercise your rotator cuffs as a way to strengthen the muscles and prevent harm. Talk to experienced archery instructors, they will always find a good and safe way for your exercise routine.
Archer's elbow is nothing else than infalmetion of the tendon (the connective tissue which attaches muscle to bone) that may also occur in the wrist and shoulder.
When you repeatedly overwork the muscles in the drawing arm and shoulder, the tendons can develop inflammation. Inflammation of the tendon causes stiffness, mild to severe pain and possibly mild swelling.
We know from experience that this type of injury occurs when, for some reason, the pressure on the muscle is increased - since not all forms not all forms of pressure work equally, especially when doing sport, pressure at the wrong angle can strain muscles and joints. In a majority of cases, this comes about for one of two reasons: overbowing (use of unsuitable bow - in terms of draw weight - which can result in serious joint and spinal injuries. AVOID like a flame!) or or from overpracticing - both are equally dangerous.
Keep your draw weight at such a level that allow comfortable grip. If you feel pain in your joints or bones, take a break and regain your strength. If this pain does not subside in any way, it may be time to visit your doctor.
Remember that bow wielding is first and foremost a game of mind against the physic, the muscle power is of secondary importance, the key is practice and perseverance in reaching your goal. If you want to improve your strength, do things like push-ups or archery-specific training independently of your shooting activities. But before anything else, talk to a qualified archery coach who will be able to help you choose exercises that are safe and suitable for you.
Hand cuts or punctures
Unlike the above injuries, these ones are not caused by the movements involved in archery. Quite the contrary, it is rather brought about by negligence during the handling of the archery equipment. In this category, arrows are usually the culprit and, interestingly enough, often not through their points. I have more than once seen a hand pierced by a cracked shaft which was not noticed by the archer in time - especially when shooting offhand.
There are equally painful and dangerous accidents when the upper part of the archer's hand is cut or pierced by the natural feather fletchings. In such a situation, the wound must be cleaned and patched immediately as it can easily become infected.
The best way to avoid such accidents is to inspect your arrows carefully before nocking one. If you detect even the slightest break or protruding fletch, put the arrow away and do not use it in competition or afterwards. No arrow, even the most expensive one, is worth a disabled hand and a goodbye to the sport for many months or, in some cases, forever!
When it comes to accidents in archery, as in any other sport, and more profoundly in life itself, there can be an infinite variation multiplied by thousands of different outcomes where someone gets hurt and we complain that it was foreseeable, and yet something can happen that we have not encountered before, so I have spared you the gory details here, and merely illustrated some hazards that with a little common sense should be avoided.
The last of the cases that come to mind are episodes with misused equipment or happening through so-called carelessness.
Among my favourites are three main highlights:
Accidental discharge - where the archer accidentally and prematurely releases the string or it slips from his fingers, resulting in an uncontrolled shot. This is why our instructors pound some rules into our heads day by day never resting, in particular, the absolute necessity to draw the bow from the ground upwards - never the opposite way!
“Dry fire” is certainly something to be avoided in archery. It means shooting a bow without an arrow nocked onto the string. This has the potential to damage the bow and injure the archer and may result in the bow exploding, especially if we are talking about compound bows. Without exaggerating - it is the absolute folly of what an archer can do!
To illustrate things more precisely one needs to understand the physics of shooting a bow:
When the archer releases the string, the tensed limbs of the bow rapidly return to their original position, converting the stored power/force into kinetic energy that propels the arrow into flight. Once everything runs well, you hear a gentle twang upon the release, you may also notice a slight vibration in the bow hand and see your arrow glide down the range.
So what happens when you release the bowstring without the arrow nocked? The energy mentioned above can't find an outlet and, terrifyingly, goes back into the bow, which by all means is not designed to absorb such force. When this happens its blast waves pass through every inch of the moving parts of the bow. This violent release of energy is loud and potentially dangerous. It can damage limbs, loosen bolts, break the bowstring and send parts into the air. I was once told the story of an archer who released a compound bow without an arrow - he doesn't seem to be involved in archery anymore as his action caused him to lose his eye, which was knocked out by a peep sight breaking of the string.
Potentially unsafe are also damaged or loose arrow nocks. I have seen arrows "flying crosswise" more than once due to poor release or damaged nocks. It is usually the latter case and believe me the arrow can fly sideways, so the rule of staying behind the shooter is most justified.
Nick Anton, IFAA Instructor Level II and IFAF Coaching Admin, reviewing my article reminded me to mention on this occasion the need for the right arrow. An arrow that is too light or has too weak a spine is as dangerous as it is similar to dry firing the bow, while an arrow that is too stiff will fly off the wrong angle from that which the archer may expect.
Another “interesting” case that a friend told me about over dinner was letting the arrow go off another archer's back. My friend happens to be an instructor who often coaches and re-trains club members in the woods on Sundays. Imagine a situation where the instructor is trying to demonstrate the correct stance, the way to tension the bow and to do this, he positions himself to the target and behind him stands a freshly graduated archer who, anxious to get going, draws his bow and takes the shot!- imagine combining such carelessness with an accidental discharge.