Back ache issues

Hello. I’ve been canoeing for several years and have always had issues with back pain after a few hours of paddling. I tend to alternate between standard j-stroke, solo C stroke (I’m a lefty so it’s a reverse C), and straight forward strokes with switching sides. I also alternate between sitting and kneeling. I use a seat back w/cushion and I also I use a 54" bent shaft paddle. My canoe does not have a foot brace, but I’ll sometimes use the yoke as a foot brace. I am not sure if my paddle is long enough- at the end of a j-stroke, the paddle edge is slightly out of the water. I figure somewhere amongst all of that info is the problem. The back pain issues are certainly not enough to keep me off the water, but as I get older, it’s only going to get worse. I thought I’d ask the experts for any advice. Thanks for any insight.

foot bar

– Last Updated: Mar-24-16 5:18 PM EST –

goes in first.
What happens without it is you go forward by pulling the canoe past a point in the water. Your canoe goes forward but as you are not glued to your canoe you do too and the backache can happen by fighting that force
At this point without footbar or brace the Sitbacker is useless. There is no force pushing you against it.

Now add footbar.. and put balls of feet on it.. You naturally will push your body back as your boat is pulled forward and your back will stay in contact with the Sitbacker

Unless you are doing a long stroke that twists your body, the J has nothing to do with it. Sounds like you are doing an evolution of the J called the Canadian Stroke. Its a more finessed version of the J used for touring.

The yoke as footbar does not work well for several reasons. Its tough in that position to get any torso rotation and even worse, thats a dang unstable position seated. Your center of gravity is way off the water

few things
Easiest first:

Google the Dr. Cox exercises for back pain. If your back is a chronic condition these may very well help. Very simple and easy but you have to do them for a week or so before you notice improvement.

Have someone watch you paddle who can give you input on your form.

See a PT and explain the mechanism. They may spot something simple you’re doing and have a simple adjustment for it, or exercises to adapt to it.

Try kneeling on a slanted seat at least part of the time. most pain free position for me. I once paddled with a back surgeoin who said he prescribed office chairs with almost the same position.


You didn’t say how tall you are

– Last Updated: Mar-24-16 6:09 PM EST –

That would be a clue as to what length your paddle should be.

Also I would advise putting in a foot brace.
If you are using the yoke as a foot brace, that would cause poor posture leading to back problems.

jack L

Ditto on kneeling

– Last Updated: Mar-24-16 6:45 PM EST –

This stuff can be complex, and no one here can diagnose you. Even a sports medicine specialist will probably warn you to not be surprised if he can't figure out the cause. But as a canoer and a guy with life-long susceptibility to strained back muscles, I think the answer is likely to be somewhere between Kayamedic's suggestion of getting more firmly planted against your seat back and the comment on kneeling. That said, I personally gain only minimal help from "back support", and I find that I can't do ANY abrupt maneuvering strokes while seated, so I just don't sit (except for short breaks).

For me, the best thing is kneeling in a good posture. In fact, even when my back is at its worst and I can hardly walk, proper kneeling posture is painless and something I can do all day long. In contrast, even in my youngest days, sitting on a canoe seat put strain on my back.

Many people I know who kneel really don't do it enough to honestly call it a position that they use. How much do you actually kneel? Is it even enough to help? If you are using a seat back, I presume you have a flat seat, and you can't kneel on a flat seat and be comfortable.

Further, can you practice the position so it's comfortable to do most of the day? For most people, the lack of foot and knee comfort is what prevents them from kneeling much. Try watching TV while seated in an "Asian" kneeling position instead of sitting in a chair (picture the position of people seated around a traditional dinner table in Japan, or the students in a martial arts class as they listen to their instructor. Put the tops of your feet flat to the floor so your heels are against your butt, and sit). I never needed to "train" to be able to do this, but some people do. Anyone who can do this will be able to kneel in a canoe for as long as they need to.

The nice thing about a canoe is you can
switch positions. I teach a fair number of students who say they can’t kneel. With a pad they can, somewhat to their surprise. Also to their suprise the back pain is gone.

It takes time to build up a tolerance to kneeling but the nice thing about a canoe is you can switch positions.

I need a knee replacement but even so can tolerate a couple of hours kneeling after working up to it. ( a pad is really important) Then I swop to sitting and do hit and switch with my feet against the footbar

Hopefully from our little imperfect but experienced committee you will find a game plan that works for you.

One other thing
Kim points out how it can help to switch positions, and earlier, I said that you really can’t kneel comfortably on a seat that’s level and made for sitting. However, you can do the opposite. You can sit on a seat that is slanted for kneeling, but to do so, you need a footbrace.

The main advantage of a slanted seat is that you can effectively kneel, but if making use of a footbrace, you’ll find that you can really “lock” yourself in position when sitting on a slanted seat, making the slanted seat perfect for both kneeling and sitting.

Yah I just left that out!

– Last Updated: Mar-24-16 8:51 PM EST –

If we all took the time to write what our brains were jammed with , we would be better at it.. and paid..

I have canted seats all around . Flat seats leave me in pain in the back of the thighs when sitting.

Maybe we should be better at coding our thoughts via a google search..

Stuff my mouth did I just write that?

As GBG alluded to, canted seats act a little as built in "sitbackers" . Better support kneeling and sitting.

Ditto on exercise
Stretch and strengthen

The Swift canoe seat with it’s slanted front edge allows almost level mounting with comfortable kneeling. I have put them in all my solos. YC-right on, I switch positions a lot and It’s a godsend for my back. Also, many people think “kneeling” means all you weight on your knees. With a properly positioned seat the knee weight is totally up to you.


get out and stretch
from time to time. I do back bends (lean back) which helps loosen up tight back muscles while paddling, and have a regimen at home including weights, a weider trainer, inversion table, and stretching.

Thanks for the feedback
Thanks guys for all of the very useful info, and super-quick responses. I think my first step is to install a footbrace and to angle the seat. I never thought of using the seat angled as I usually paddle seated, but I will certainly try more kneeling as well as sitting on the canted seat while using the footbrace. My canoe does have a seat height adjustment feature, so that part is easy enough. I might be the least handy person on Earth, so I’ll probably somehow cause my canoe to explode while installing the footbrace, but if nothing else, I’ll be able to judge improvement from more kneeling while on the canted seat.

No you wont explode the canoe
but your feeling is one many of us have had in the past before we dared fiddle.

FWIW when my back gets to huting if possible I immerse my back in the water for a few minutes. Helps me.