There is no way around it, a female’s body does experience recoil differently than the male body while shooting. The physical differences in gender do play a role in how the female body responds to shooting higher calibers. Most women have smaller wrists, shorter limbs, and less physical strength than a male, although this usually does not prevent a woman from firing higher calibers. Essentially, it is the applied shooting fundamentals such as grip, stance, trigger control, follow through, sight alignment, applied breathing, and eye dominance that is necessary for accuracy.
Perhaps you have said or heard another woman say, “I don’t like shooting a higher caliber because I feel like I can’t control the gun, and my hand slips off the grip.” Some women express dissatisfaction while shooting any caliber outside of a 9mm or .22 caliber. Oftentimes, it is usually the lack of upper body and/or hand strength that is the culprit. Less muscle and more exposed skeletal bone are also commonly associated in women, therefore handling a shotgun and rifle introduces noticeable effects when firing. After many years of training men and women, I have found that most women experience difficulty in holding a shotgun or rifle for longer periods due to the weight; and many women prefer not to fire any projectile that produces a “slamming impact” against her upper body.
Aside from being uncomfortable, there are documented injuries associated with recreational shooting. Several common complaints from women are wrists and shoulder problems. As with any sport, these injuries stem from impact and overexertion. Dr. Roshanna Sevel, a Northern Virginia chiropractor of Fairfax Sport & Spine, adds, “Muscular strain, trigger point headaches stemming from the upper traps being too tight, Adhesive Capsulitis, and Carpal Tunnel are the majority of complaints coming from my female patients." Sevel added, “Women in general have more laxity in their joints and less upper body strength then men. Even though women may have more ligamentous laxity in their shoulders, this does not equate to shoulder instability, which could lead to pathological conditions such as subluxation, dislocation, and impingement. This predisposition for joint hypermobility may be genetic or gender related. As a result of loose shoulders, female athletes may be more prone to overuse syndromes and micro-trauma with an increased risk of converting global laxity to increased instability.”
As women, we definitely need to be sensitive and take precautions against continuous harsh recoil, which targets a specific region. Adhesive Capsulitis, commonly referred to as “The 50 year old shoulder,” appears to be a common diagnosis largely affecting women than men. Dr. Sevel states, “It is the most common diagnosis in women between 40-60 yrs. of age or women with conditions such as diabetes, arteriosclerotic heart disease, pulmonary disorders, GI disorders, and thyroid disease. There may be a pre-existing condition such as a sprain or tear that the patient is unaware of. When a body part experiences what is considered to be traumatic, the affected region can become inflamed, or worse, atrophy can occur. Recommended treatment includes an extensive PT program to normalize joint motion of the shoulder and restore scapular function and strength. Acupuncture, joint mobilization and manipulation are often the treatment course. Care with manipulation/adjustments should be taken due to bones becoming weaker with adhesive capsulitis due to disuse and resultant osteoporosis.” Many of these cases can take up to 6 months or a year to resolve itself. The good news is that surgery is often not necessary if the patient is properly diagnosed and responds well to treatment. Any one of these diagnoses can be accompanied with severe pain, sleepless nights, and restricted or limited movement.
Personally, I have spent an insane amount of time shooting for many years based on my professional career. Throughout the years, I have experienced the occasional “tennis elbow,” wrist or finger tendonitis, and most recently as of last year, Adhesive Capsulitis, caused by two pre-existing tears that I was not aware of. Fortunately, I was able to get through these impairments without surgery after being treated by Dr. Svel and her application of the Graston Technique and additional therapeutic procedures. The following is based on Dr. Sevel’s recommendation in addition to what has worked for me:
- Listen to your body! If possible, take frequent breaks. If pain occurs, take longer breaks between shooting periods such as a week or 10 days allowing the muscles in your hands, arms, and shoulders to relax.
- Apply kinesio or medical tape to these regions. Make sure that the tape is not disrupting circulation; however wrapped sufficiently enough to block wrist movement, or provide support to the region. Methods of application and information can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yJVQuuRRKA.
- An arm brace that includes the wrist and extends to the forearm is also a good way to offer stabilization and support while shooting.
- If you find that your trigger finger no longer has the strength to pull the trigger, regardless of single or double action, wrapping your trigger finger of your shooting hand with the next finger, the middle index, will allow you the strength to squeeze the trigger without experiencing severe pain. When wrapping both fingers together, be mindful that the middle index finger needs enough space to also feel the slack of the trigger. It is possible to wrap both fingers so that the original trigger finger does not have to bend when the index finger squeezes the trigger. Remember that follow through must be used or the tendency to “anticipate” or jerk the trigger will occur.
- Icing the problematic areas seems to take out the inflammation providing that you also allow some rest time for these areas.
- Making sure your shoulders are slightly rounded will help dissipate the forces from the recoil. You want the forces to go through the body and not stay localized in the shoulder.
- Exercising the serratus anterior muscle and subscapula muscle will help with shoulder protraction (bringing the arms forward).
- When shooting a rifle, keep the butt of the long gun in the pocket between the clavicle and the shoulder.
When making a selection on caliber, firearm, or ammunition, women should feel comfortable in the impact of recoil and her ability to handle the gun. Oftentimes, I use the analogy of shoe or handbag selection when a woman contacts me for advice on gun selection. In order to know what you should choose, determine why you want the item; is the item suitable for your activity or occasion; and don’t forget the correct size and comfort factor.
In order to make the right selection, you need to sample and handle as many firearms as possible before making a decision. While hiking, you wouldn’t allow anyone to cram your size 7 foot into a size 5 stiletto heel. Neither would you wear stiletto heels while hiking. Then why allow anyone to make you feel inferior for shooting any firearm or caliber outside of your comfort zone? The obvious implication is that going outside of your suitability range could lead to an injury. Of course, taking a firearms training course from a knowledgeable and patient instructor should introduce proper shooting fundamentals and assist in your understanding of firing sequence and appropriate caliber or firearms selection.
I would like to thank Dr. Roshana Sevel, DC, MS, CCSP, CCEP,CSTP, at the Fairfax Sport & Spine Center in Fairfax, Virginia for her contribution to this article. Dr. Sevel is also responsible for my speedy recovery and getting me back to recreational shooting by applying her knowledge, techniques, and advice.