Rowing and Lower Back Pain

Rowing is an excellent sport for developing core, leg and arm strength, as well as improved cardiovascular function. It requires technical skills, motor coordination, adequate strength, and most of all, endurance. Unfortunately, given its rigorous nature, it does have a reasonably high risk of lower back pain, which can be a potential career-ender in rowers.

Injury Risk in Rowing

An injury study from 1958 (a Commonwealth Games Report) described rowing as ‘relatively unhazardous’ but still reported that 50% of rowers sustained a new back pain episode.

Back pain is a significant issue in rowing. It has also been identified that history of previous injury and time spent using rowing ergometers as well as core stability training can predict injury onset. Also, a growing body of research involving biomechanics has shown that pelvic positioning plays a role in injury risk.

Lower Back Pain in Rowers

Most rowing injuries are caused by overuse and related to the stress of the rowing stroke. The type of boat and rapid increase in training volume also play a role in rowing injuries.

The lumbar spine is one of the parts being affected from rowing overuse injuries. The large forces and repetitive nature of the activity create the potential for injury to the lumbar spine structures during rowing.

Incorporating the following factors into training and rehabilitation programmes may lead to reduced incidence of lower back pain in rowers:

  • Warming up activities
  • Time of the day which rowers train
  • Control of lumbar motion by specific muscle activation patterns
  • Flexibility of the hamstring muscles

How Physiotherapy Helps

A study by Perich et al, 2011 showed that a single session per season of education by a physiotherapist, weekly leg and pelvis strengthening exercises and a weekly core stability session can reduce the risk of in season low back pain in school aged rowers by 50%.

Warm-ups, such as maintaining a daily core exercise program and stretching, helps prevent injury. Elite rowers should focus on core stability, flexibility, and endurance, according to Donald Nguyen, PT, ATC, LAT, assistant athletic trainer, University of Texas, Austin.

Certain activities including rowing can worsen spinal alignment and worsen pain. If you have disc injuries, your physiotherapist may advise you to stop rowing and do cross training when tolerated. You may also be recommended with flexibility exercises and core stabilisation programme to help prevent back pain.

Flexibility exercises improve your range of motion in your joints. Better flexibility can improve your performance and reduce your injury risk by helping your joints move through their full range of motion and allowing your muscles to work most effectively.

Core stability exercises focus on improving stabilising muscles in your core by restoring muscle strength and endurance and restoring posture and balance by regulating neuromuscular control system for overall function.

Rowing is definitely a challenging and a great way to get fit and allows you to enjoy the waters of rivers and lakes. Don’t let lower back pain spoil the fun and adventure of rowing. See a Perth physiotherapist. Call us today at 9272 7359!