May 10, 2018


By: Mike Justman

The fishing reels had new line, my favorite jigs were tied, and the lunch bucket was filled with all the essentials. Anticipation was high as I hitched the boat in preparation for the “Walleye Run” on Wisconsin’s Wolf River. I was thinking a fresh Wisconsin Friday night fish fry was only an exciting day of tight lines away as I waited for the arrival of my fishing buddy. A vibration sounded from my pocket with a message that a flare up of his low-back pain was going to keep him from participating in today’s fishing trip.

Pain, wherever it may be, is something that can ruin anyone’s next fishing memory, but it is also something that can be fixed or even prevented. As a physical therapist and a passionate outdoorsman, I have daily opportunities to help ensure people are able to continue to participate in activities they love.

Steps taken for injury prevention can ensure the avid fisherman/woman can continue to make fishing memories.

X Proper gripping footwear can prevent slips and falls on wet boat decks. This also includes precautionary measures for avoiding falls from stepping on slippery rocks in the trout stream. My father has a “waders filled with water” story from that mistake last spring.

X Loading your boat with the basic crank winch should be done with a solid base of support and two arms to avoid excessive stress on your upper body. Electric winches are also a good shoulder/rotator cuff-saving alternative. Proper lifting mechanics while raising/lowering the boat anchor will help avoid that nagging back pain. Lift with your legs and not your back, and keep the pull of the weight as close to your body as possible.

X Netting the big fish should be done with a staggered stance or while kneeling to maintain a solid base of support and center of gravity. Avoid excessive bending at the waist – I know your next “big one” will be heavy lifting.

X Please don’t be the fisherman that sits in the same position for hours on end. Motivation to move when the fish are not biting is likely not at the highest, however minimizing prolonged poor postural positions can greatly reduce unneeded stress to your upper back and shoulder regions. Change from your slouched seated position to an erect standing position and vice versa every 15 to 30 minutes. Better yet, forget the seated slouched position altogether! 

X Various types of casting and jigging can also create repetitious wear and tear on a person’s elbows and wrists. Alternating left and right arms, if able, as well as your casting/jigging patterns, can sometimes prevent continuous strain and contributions to the infamous carpal tunnel syndromes and epicondylitis of the elbow areas. Changing lures and weights of baits can sometimes not only be a benefit for fish presentation, but also your own well-being. Stress reducing upper extremity braces are quite accessible over the counter. This can also further assist with your repetitious bait presentation style.  

X A physical therapist can also help with the pain that is already present. We have various hands-on interventions, as well as therapeutic exercises and activities that include stretching and strengthening. These exercises not only help fix an individuals’ current problem, but also give them the tools they need to keep that issue from returning. A specific tool that I personally have a lot of success with in pain reduction is called “dry needling,” in which we can alleviate pain from tight muscles and tissue tension.

Ever since I can remember, making fishing memories with family and friends has been a year-round tradition, in mine, as well as families across Wisconsin. As Wisconsin opening fishing weekend approaches, I would like to see outdoor enthusiasts not only take advantage of what physical therapists have to offer in reducing their latest ache or pain to restore a prior level of fishing function, but also to take the appropriate measures in injury prevention to ensure that “pain” is not a part of your next fishing memory.


Mike Justman is a physical therapist at Orthopedic & Spine Therapy in Clintonville. OST currently has 18 clinics across the state of Wisconsin. He enjoys restoring a patient back to an active and pain-free lifestyle, and looks forward to making long lasting friendships with his patients. If you have any questions for Mike, you can email him at or visit the website at