Lower back pain verses the kayak

In six weeks we will be paddling the Suwannee River.  And the question from our friends is “Jeff…Sean how is the back?”  The answer is “today it is good” 🙂


Sean and I both have suffered from lower back pain.  Some people have theorized that the pain comes from kayaking.  Our pain was due to doing stupid things on dry land…And we now practice what we preach when it comes to back health.

Kayaking can improve a person’s core muscles and flexibility.  The more we stretch, exercise, and paddle (with a safe degree of rotation) the less we experience back pain associated to disks putting pressure on nerves.

Next weeks post will go into depth on what exercises were prescribed to us from physical therapists and a spinal surgeon.

Occasional I have a student in one of my classes talking about their back pain.  Before I see them on the water I ask them to consult with their doctor about their pain.  And then I request that the student brings me a letter from their doctor informing me that it is safe for them to be on the water.  Then after an evaluation of their technique, and looking inside of their cockpit, the plausible reasons for the pain turn out to be…

  • slouching
  • arm paddling
  • no rotation
  • strangling the paddle shaft
  • no padding within the cockpit
  • too much padding within the cockpit

Too much padding and high seat backs do temporarily mask back pain.  Unfortunately, this type of outfitting can lead to the weakening of abdominal and low back muscles.  It works similar to a doctor prescribed corset used to stabilize the back after an injury or surgery.

I wore such a corset to help mend a bulging disk.

When a corset is used, the patients have to wean themselves off it through therapy because the muscles have lost their strength and flexibility.  It is these muscles that support our spine and keeps or disks in a healthy position.

The best solution to surviving or preventing back pain is practicing proper techniques.  Seek out qualified ACA instructors or BCU coaches who will help you develop a fitness-paddling plan.  Hopefully the instructor / coach will also have a background in physical therapy.  Do not fall into the retail trap of fancy paddling gadgets.  Most gadgets promise to minimize pain without focusing on improving core muscles and flexibility.

– Jeff

PS.  Qualified ACA instructors or BCU coaches should be able to show you their membership card.  If they act oddly when asked, they maybe claiming to be certified to increase their chances of making money.

PS2 – If you are experiencing leg numbness tell you doctor.  This could be a sign of a pinched nerve.  Consult your doctor  immediately.

1 Comment

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