Friday, July 18, 2014

Common Shooting Injuries to Women

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
  • 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.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Armless Man Shoots With Feet

Firearms Training and Peanut Butter

One may ask what does peanut butter have to do with firearms training.  Well, as a firearms instructor, we need to provide the safest environment as possible for our students.  An experienced and knowledgeable instructor will take the necessary precautions such as making sure that there is no live ammunition in the classroom, and safe gun handling.  However, are we aware of the possible unknown risks that instructors can impose on our students by the slightest oversight?

A few months ago, I was conducting several firearms training classes back to back.  Typically my main diet consists of protein bars or peanut butter as a quick snack when I am between classes.  On this particular day, I had eaten peanut butter between graham crackers for lunch before responding to another class.  Following the course, we went to the gun range where students began handling firearms and shooting.  Within a few minutes of being on the range, one of my students started to experience severe itching on his palms followed by hives. 

As one who experiences severe allergies, it became apparent that this student had come into contact with a contagion which triggered these symptoms.  Because the obvious was only contained to his hands, we started a process of elimination immediately.  It only took 2 minutes to determine, only after questioning my student, that he had a peanut allergy.  My oversight of not washing my hands after having eaten peanut butter had caused me to transfer the contagion to my student including the firearm in which he had also handled.  Washing both of our hands, sanitizing the firearms, and my student taking a Benadryl in his possession resolved the situation. Fortunately, he was able to continue with us at the range without any further complications.

As a firearms instructor, we always encourage our students to wash their hands after handling firearms.  It was on this day, that I discovered a very important lesson.  Not only do we wash our hands after shooting, firearms instructors should also include washing their hands after handling any type of food before working with others.  Many people suffer from peanut allergies and some can even experience severe reactions to the slightest amount of exposure.  Fortunately, my student and I were lucky this day, and we are able to actually teach each other!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

SHE CAN SHOOT.blogspot: Girls With Guns

SHE CAN SHOOT.blogspot: Girls With Guns: Recently CNN published an article, Girls With Guns at: It was an interesting spin that briefly i...

Girls With Guns

Recently CNN published an article, Girls With Guns at:

It was an interesting spin that briefly introduced the positive effects on what transpires when a girl is introduced to firearms.  In addition, the article proposed that we also begin educating young girls on firearms training in school.

I offered a response:

I think that this article only highlights the endless possibilities of what can happen if a girl is introduced to firearms training.  As the owner of a national SHE CAN SHOOT, LLC, I have seen young women gain the strength, confidence, and empowerment to fight any adversity just because she discovered that as a female, she achieved this hidden talent. This is such an amazing experience and accomplishment for a young girl because the sport and opportunity is usually only introduced to boys.

I have witnessed such accomplished confidence fight eating disorders, bullying, self-esteem issues, and a new drive for achievement.

In addition to being the CEO of SHE CAN SHOOT, LLC, I am also a consultant for various defense contractors. My years of government training and experience have placed me in regions of Africa and Afghanistan. During these periods, I witness many indigenous men within villages deployed to serve as security.  The harsh reality is that these villages leave behind women and children who are vulnerable and unable to protect themselves. 

Training these young women to physically protect their villages and families is much like your comparison of how women protected their homes while the west was settled.  Not only does this empower the community against such threats, it promotes social change and empowerment among women in these countries where their voice is largely ignored.

It goes beyond "teaching her how to fight." Teaching a girl the responsibilities of firearms training and the importance of recognizing what would be considered an actual physical threat to her and her family needs to be involved.  We have witnessed this in a recent Oklahoma incident where a 12 year old female is at home alone.  A home invasion occurs and the young woman is forced to grab the only known weapon that she has been trained with, a shotgun, in order to fight against the threat that had followed her throughout the house.  The end result was that this young woman was unharmed.

As indicated above in your article, "You are not only educating her, but you are helping her realize that she has the rights and that she is responsible for protecting her family."

Tina Wilson-Cohen

What are your thoughts and suggestions?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Firearms Training Over An Alarm System

Recently, I was contacted by one of our SHE CAN SHOOT members who wanted me to share her story as to why she selected firearms training over having an alarm system.  Out of respect for her identity and to honor her request, I will call her PZ.

For you ladies out there who are on the fence about taking firearms training, please read her experience:

Having found myself prematurely retired, I had begun to enjoy the bliss of sleeping without an alarm clock and catching up on TV series that I missed from 2001 - 2011 because of erratic work hours.  All was well until several police cars showed up at a neighbor's home 2 doors away last spring.  Somewhere between 10 - 11 AM, their back deck door was kicked in and jewels were stolen, many from previous family generations.  Because of the hour of the break in and the specific items stolen, I wasn't too worried and thought family friends or relatives might have been involved.

Several months later, a break-in and entering was attempted about 7 houses from me in my small safe rural Montgomery County community.  This occurred in a cul-de- sac, the burglar seemed to be on foot, and tried to commit his crime around 9 in the morning.  My husband saw him walking down our street as he left for work.  He wondered about this unfamiliar person walking toward a dead end in our neighborhood but he never called me about it and would never think to call the police.
Although there were two cars in the driveway and the residents were home, the burglar tried to break into the back door and when the alarm went off, it scared him away.  The next day had several security company trucks installing home security systems in my neighborhood.  We already had a system.  I told a neighbor that my security system is a great idea when we're gone but both break-in's this year were done in the morning hours when I'm home.  It didn't take much thought to realize a gun would make me feel more protected. 

I did some quick research on guns and women on the Internet and decided I needed a 9mm.  My friend and I went off to the gun shop where I made my purchase.  The Internet guided me to Gilbert's Shooting Range for lessons.  While there, they told me they had instructors but that a woman, Tina, had started up a group, SHE CAN SHOOT, for women and would be offering lessons in various parts of the metro area.  

I contacted Tina and we chose to meet at Gilbert's. My lesson included such topics as  revolvers, pistols, ammunition and safety factors.  Rather than starting with my gun, Tina had a bag full of guns and she suggested several that I should start off with.  She selected a non-threatening target (circles instead of a grizzly mean man or a ghoul), picked the ammunition, and lent me ear muffs for protection and safety  glasses.

We entered the lane we were assigned and Tina organized the target, ammo and the gun for my first shot.  I was a little scared and asked her to shoot the gun first and she did.  Next, I took the gun.  As I looked around, no one was paying attention to me nor pointing and saying "look at that retired woman learning to shoot."  I felt very comfortable.  When I took the gun into my hands, I knew that this was for me!  It felt so natural.  I tried several guns, all .22 caliber, and the recoil I expected didn't exist.  This was a lot of fun. 

I decided to try Tina's .9mm before trying mine and was surprised to find that the recoil was pretty intense and that I couldn't rack the slide.  Learning to shoot comes with its own vocabulary, by the way.  In other words, I couldn't move the slide back which is essential.  I lacked the strength in hands and arms.

So I was stuck with a gun I couldn't use.  I wish I had known about SHE CAN SHOOT before I bought it.  Tina suggested I try to exchange it for a .22 caliber but the paperwork is intense because of reassigning serial numbers, etc.  Plus, it could no longer be sold as new so I did not get all my money back.  I did buy a Ruger SR22 that I am passionate about.  It's a great gun and I try to practice 2 - 3 times per week.  I am totally confident with it and feel that if need be, I would be able to shoot an intruder in my home.  Tina and others have told me don't let anyone tell you that you can't cause damage with a .22.  

I feel empowered as the result of my training and practice. SHE CAN SHOOT offers many opportunities for women to get together for various types of instruction, to shoot at ranges and for other related social events.  It adds a level of comradery knowing that women of all ages and walks of life are sharing a sense of empowerment.  As for me, I just may be ready to move on to a .9mm.