Across the decades, many pros and local experts have helped me become a better bass angler. These days, Travis Perret plays an equally important role in improving my ability to fish. His talent in physical therapy allows me to fish nearly every weekday, and do so without the aches and pains that plague anglers of all ages, but especially those of advanced years.
I met Perret in 2006, when he was director of The Egoscue Method Clinic of Kansas City, which focused on non-medical pain relief. For several years, chronic pain had afflicted my right shoulder, especially when I fished, and I contacted him for a remedy. During the initial visit, he examined me and then developed a series of daily exercises. As I performed them, the pain gradually began to abate and within two months it was under control.
To continue pain free fishing, Perret recommended a set of daily exercises and I’ve followed his recommendations closely. Now retired, I’ve often done two or three sets of these low-stress exercises in a day. But despite my diligence, pain occasionally erupts, which Perret says is an inevitable part of life. But he points out that the pain would be worse or even debilitating if I hadn’t been doing the exercises.
He’s helped my 70-year-old body deal with low-back pain, wrist pain, elbow pain, plantar fasciitis, TMJ, and periodic shoulder flare-ups. During the five years that he’s worked with me, I haven’t been to a chiropractor, physician, or physical therapist. And I haven’t needed pain medication, except on a rare occasion.
Since our meeting, Perret’s become an avid bass angler, so he recognizes the difficult physical situations anglers endure. At 35, Travis isn’t plagued by chronic pains but he says, “When I spend hours on the water, my lower back and upper back occasionally become tight as my shoulders gradually slope forward and become rounded as I fish. To correct this, I take a deep breath and pull my shoulders blades back and down. I might even sit and do a few sitting cats and dogs.” Editor’s note: See exercises at end of article.
Perret’s interest in this field goes back to college, graduating in 1998 with a degree in exercise science from the University of Kansas, where he was a decathlete on the track team. He considered getting a master’s degree in physical therapy, but opted instead to study at Pete Egoscue’s clinic in San Diego. Perret notes that Egoscue began his practice in 1971 and has helped thousands of people conquer chronic pain. Egoscue has authored several books: Pain Free: A Revolutionary Method for Stopping Chronic Pain; The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion: Revolutionary Program That Lets You Rediscover the Body’s Power to Rejuvenate It; Pain Free at Your PC; Pain Free for Women: The Revolutionary Program for Ending Chronic Pain; and Let’s Lighten Up.
Perret worked for Egoscue in San Diego, Stamford, Connecticut, Tampa, Florida, and Kansas City for 8 years, helping athletes including retired tennis pro Jennifer Capriati, football’s John Lynch and Mark Brunell, Atlanta Braves slugger Troy Glaus, retired NBA star Scott Wedman, and the University of Nebraska volleyball team. He no longer manages The Egoscue Clinic, but has his own practice as a personal trainer and exercise therapist specializing in chronic-pain.
In addition to helping professional athletes and recreational anglers, Perret has helped many clients who are virtually incapacitated. One elderly gentleman, battling Parkinson’s disease and confined to a wheelchair, consulted with him for 7 months and was able to go duck hunting. The gist of Perret’s work is helping people who have improper body alignment and muscle imbalances, which are a common cause of chronic pain. “I do a posture-and-gait analysis to determine what joints are moving improperly” Perret says, “and study imbalances in the muscles. I then customize a series of low-demand exercises, based on my evaluation. “After clients perform their exercises for a week or two, they’re re-evaluated and may receive a new set of exercises. It’s a building process of re-educating the muscles to move the bones and joints properly.”
He notes that the fundamental design of the human body is for muscles to move bones. “The exercises I assign are designed to educate the muscles to move the bones and joints in a more functional manner. When the muscles function properly, the joints move better. And when the joints move better, they stop breaking down, which in turn decreases or eliminates pain.”
The Pain of Angling
In addressing pains that commonly afflicts anglers, Perret says that operating a foot-controlled trolling motor causes an angler’s weight to be distributed unequally on the feet, provoking various issues of imbalance. Excessive weight bearing on one knee, for example, can cause pain in that joint that gradually worsens.
Another example of angling pain was recently cited by Kim Stricker of Howell, Michigan, in contributing to his retirement at age 58 from tournament fishing. Stricker wrote, “Fishing literally became a pain in the neck! An MRI showed what the doctors refer to as natural degeneration (arthritis), but there’s no question that it’s been accelerated by the abuse of bouncing across nearly every lake and reservoir in the country for 27 years. Bad posture while fishing likely played a part as well. Or perhaps I’m just getting old. But I’m not ready for that yet!”
Perret can help anglers like Stricker. Likewise, he can help Alabama bass pro Gerald Swindle, who has back and shoulder pain, or Ken Cook of Oklahoma who battled knee pain and retired from the Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments last year. Moreover, he could have helped Denny Brauer of Missouri, before he had back surgeries or Larry Nixon of Arkansas before he had thumb and wrist surgery, possibly preventing the need for these procedures.
Upon seeing Stricker’s comments, Perret said, “As people age, they get more aches and pains, but those aches and pain shouldn’t prevent them from doing what they love to do. Many anglers like Stricker feel older than they are because their bodies have taken too much abuse from the rigors of fishing.
“The human body is built to do many different movements, but it’s not designed to perform the same movement over and over, for many years. Casting is an example. An angler makes hundreds of cast during a typical fishing day, far more for speed specialists like Kevin VanDam. Doing that regularly for 10 years can start to break down the body. Sitting is another example. Whether it occurs at a desk, in a car, or in a boat, too much sitting eventually breaks down the body and creates pain.”
My friend Stacey King, a veteran bass pro from Missouri, recently consulted with Perret at my urging, hoping for relief from pain in his shoulders and hands. At the end of last year’s FLW tournament season, King dedicated time to follow his recommended exercises. King has reported great improvement, and much more comfort when fishing.
“The whole body is connected,” Perret emphasizes. “What affects the shoulders also affects the back, hips, and knees. It’s not fishing itself that causes pain. It’s the alignment of an angler’s body while he fishes that does. Once those alignment problems are fixed, he or she can fish without pain.” He adds that anglers can prevent the abuse that fishing puts upon their bodies and resulting pain by doing alignment exercises prior to and after each outing.
Perret admits that achieving proper alignment and eliminating pain takes time and effort. “But if anglers have pain and want relief, they must perform the exercises consistently, and the exercises should be modified as postures improve. Altering exercises allows anglers to build strength, increase flexibility, and stymie pain. My program treats the whole body, not just symptoms or location of any particular pain. When you come to me with back pain, you’ll find that I will also work on your shoulders and knees.”
Modern communications makes it easier for anglers to work with Perret. “They don’t always have to see me in person. We can send photos and discuss symptoms, or address questions via email.” Indeed, Perret has helped me several times during the past two years in this manner and he’s helped In-Fisherman Editor Steve Quinn deal with shoulder problems and Quinn has become a follower of Perret’s Egoscue methods. Once you start doing the assigned exercises, relief is on the way, maybe in a week or two, maybe longer. But when it comes, the pleasure of pain-free fishing will keep you faithful in your routine.
Basic Boatside Exercises
Perret has developed a series of basic exercises that anglers can do in or near the boat before and after fishing. They’re designed to help the body withstand the rigors of a day on the water—hundreds, maybe thousands of casts or pitches, operating a trolling motor, running rough water, and picking up heavy objects. The goal is to achieve correct alignment. He emphasizes doing the exercises in the order listed.
1. Standing Arm Circles: Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes pointing straight ahead, and extend arms at shoulder height with palms facing down. Pull shoulder blades down and pinch them together. Circle arms 40 times forwards. Then turn hands so the palms are up and circle backwards 40 times. The diameter of the circle at the tips of the fingers is about 6 inches.
2. Standing Elbow Curls: Stand with feet hip-width apart and toes pointing straight ahead. Place knuckles on temples with thumbs pointing down. Bring your elbows together in front of your face and level with your shoulders. Use knuckles as a hinge to bring elbows together. Do 25 times.
3. Sitting Knee Squeezes: Sit on edge of chair with hips rolled forward to put an arch in your low back. Make a fist with each hand and place between your knees to create resistance. Squeeze your knees together 60 times. Don’t slouch and keep head up.
4. Sitting Abductor Press: Sit on edge of chair with hips rolled forward to put an arch in your low back. Place your hands on the outside of your knees. Don’t slouch. Press out with your knees while creating resistance with your hands. Do 60 times.
5. Sitting Chair Twist: Sit on the edge of the chair with feet hip-width apart and toes pointing straight ahead. Sit up tall with an arch in your low back. Turn head and shoulders to the right while reaching the right arm around and behind you. Keep the left hand relaxed on your lap. Hold for 1 minute, then turn the other direction.
6. Sitting Cats and Dogs: Sit on edge of chair with hips rolled forward to put an arch in your low back. Arms are relaxed at your side. Then roll hips backward and slouch, stretching the low back. Repeat back and forth 10 times.
7. Standing Groin Stretch: Place one foot on an elevated surface at least 2 feet high. Move hips forward but keep your ankle in front of your knee. Remember to keep your back foot straight and back leg straight. Arms are relaxed at your side or on the leading knee. Pull shoulder blades down and together. Bend your torso back so shoulders are slightly behind your hips. Hold for one minute, then switch legs and repeat.
8. Air Bench: Place your back up against a wall, squat down so your hips are slightly higher than your knees. Keep your ankles slightly in front of knees. With feet pointed straight ahead, press your low back against the wall. Hold for 1 minute.
9. Counter Stretch: Raise your hands at shoulder level in front of you, then lower your chest while bending at the hips. Keep your feet pointed straight ahead and your legs straight but knees not locked. Knees, ankles and feet should be aligned. Head is positioned between your arms and looking down. Hold for 1 minute.
Ned Kehde, Lawrence, Kansas, is an In-Fisherman Field Editor and frequent contributor to Bass Guide. Travis Perret, Lawrence, Kansas, is a physical therapist specializing in pain relief through body-alignment exercises.