backache while paddling

I have mainly paddled cheap recreational kayaks on lazy rivers and ponds, but now live very close to Lake Michigan and have been trying out various kayaks to see what fits.

What I have been finding is that after paddling for 10 - 15 minutes, my back begins to ache to the point where I have to stop and bring my knees up to stretch. As soon as I put my legs back down and start paddling it starts again.

Has anyone experienced this, and have suggestions?

thigh pad
This works for some similar problems:

Put some sort of pad (e.g. a stuffed dry bag) just in front of the seat to raise your legs just a bit off the front of the seat. If that helps, there are commercially available thigh pads or some other diy solution. This made a crucial difference for my wife. It’s easy to try.

It might also be that you need a higher seat back. Because of an injury in my youth my lower back is compromised, so I sometimes need to modify the back band in a new-to-me kayak.

I had that problem with a Perception
Acadia. I tried everything but concluded it was the seat. I’ve had a dozen boats since, including other Perceptions and never had the problem again.

A friend taught me to “attack” the
water as I paddle, always straight or leaning forward, lots of rotation, never leaning back, and I’ve not had any more back aches. One seat that I have also has a nice thick lumbar roll with Velcro that I can fix at different heights to keep me “forward”. Just thoughts. R

Which kayaks are you testing
and where does your back hurt? Upper? Lower?

Tight hamstrings can cause back pain. As will poor posture while in the boat.

This article might be helpful:

My wife’s Acadia scout is one of the ones that caused the backache as well as a Tsunami SP I tried (both considered kids kayaks). We are both very small, so these work, but I’m at the upper end of size weight for them and wondered if that was the problem (5’4" 125#). The deck height on both of them forces my legs to stay pretty flat, and the back bands seem to be too low (if I lean back in the Acadia Scout, the cockpit rim digs into my lower back).

Love these small boats because they are light, easy to control, and fit inside our vehicles.

I’m considering a LL Bean Calypso, but unable to try one out because the closest store is about 7 hours away.

I was surfing waves on Lake Michigan today, and the Acadia Scout was amazingly stable. Waves were splashing over the bow and it wanted to turn into the wind occasionally, but very impressed compared to the rec kayaks I’ve tried in the past - had to come in long before I was ready to though because of the back pain.

Thank you!
Thank you for all the suggestions, and sorry for not being clearer on what/where my problem is. Injured my lower back years ago and was diagnosed as having a desiccated disc at L4/L5.

The ache while paddling is across the lower back and sometimes radiating into my thighs. Not really painful, but very uncomfortable to the point that it can quickly ruin the experience.

I also drive a lot for work, so this may be contributing to the problem as well. Mainly wanted to eliminate the likelihood that it was any particular type of seat, position, kayak, or ??

Probably leaning back and not rotating

– Last Updated: Jun-13-15 8:05 AM EST –

This combination of position is lousy for a bad back, especially where the lumbar vertebra are issues. You need to take the weight off the lower back by sitting up straight, try not to rely on any seat back, and learn to rotate while paddling. This puts the weight on your sit bones and core muscles. You might have to strengthen core muscles and do some stretching to do this effectively.

In fact that low seat back you didn't like is performing correctly. What you need is a band that supports your lumbar vertebrae, support of everything above that is on you.

You may also need to have your knees up a bit. Paddling with legs out flat is a position that not everyone's body is designed to do because it requires more stretch thru the hamstrings to not compromise sitting more erect.

thigh support
I had a bit of this problem (and a bad back to start). Read an article in California Paddler about thigh support. The solution for me was to partially inflate my paddle float and tuck it under my thighs. Works like a charm and cost me nothing more, aince I had the float anyway.

how old are you?
I ask because I had a similar injury and it’s been a case of managing it since then. Age can be an impediment to management but still doable

First off - lots of driving really can set me back. Especially if I’m not keeping my core in shape. I find that my driving posture can influence the degree to which driving bothers me, but it almost always does.

I have to keep my core in shape and my weight gain to a minimum. I cut out all heavy weights and have added some stretches, next step is yoga.

Ironically, IF my core is in shape and I make sure my form is sound, paddling may make my back a bit sore short-term, but no pain radiating down my legs, and the work helps maintain those core muscles. So for me personally, it’s a balancing act.

One thing I do daily that seems to help is in any activity that involves my core (it could be walking up or down a hill, or sitting in a chair), focusing on keeping the upper stomach muscles in, which helps with load, posture, and exercises those muscles.

hanmstrings too tight
Hamstrings too tight. streatch them

Ditto on hamstrings
before paddling touch your toes for a count of 60. If you cannot touch your toes then go as far as you can without any pain. Everyday day three times a day. Paddling is a sport you need to have loose hamstrings and a strong core.

Paddling and the associated training has helped my back pain over the long haul. It has been a struggle, but now I also can drive without a break for three hours and walk a long way with no back pain.

AND if I goe easy I can touch my toes in the morning on the third or fourth try and tough them easily for the rest of the day.

For me the solution was better posture. I was slouching a little and that contributed to lower back pain and stiffness. Now I sit bolt upright, even leaning a little forward. I concentrate on rotating my torso through the paddle stroke, and I alternately press against each footrest with my feet. I think this has made my paddling much more efficient and I no longer get the pain or stiffness.

The backrest on my kayak is now set just about as low as it will go and I have it set very upright.


– Last Updated: Jun-13-15 6:19 PM EST –

You might try a Swift Adirondack or Kiwassa. I have the Adirondack 13.6, which comes with a "high back" (for a kayak) seat with an adjustable lumbar pad, so your back gets good and comfortable support. The seat back moves with you when paddling and twisting the torso, and the seat base in this boat is also very comfortable.

The cockpit is also significantly larger than in a typical kayak, which gives you a lot more freedom to choose paddling postures. When I paddle in my Adirondack 13.6, my back is straight, my knees are raised and splayed in the cockpit opening, outsides of legs resting against comfy padded gunwales and my feet are still making contact with the food pedals for those points of control. It's a very comfortable boat. The Kiwassa 14 is similar, the hull is a little narrower and the cockpit a good deal narrower, but still has that length as it does in the Adirondack.

I have paddled a surfski with similar hull dimensions but there was sitting in a form fitting composite bucket that ended very low on the back; without anything supporting my back I was kind of hunching forward all the time - after paddling that just 20-30 mins I was very uncomfortable, while I can paddle my Adirondack for 2 hours and feel fine.

If your doctor or physical therapist permits it, doing resistance exercises to strengthen the muscles on either side of your spine and all of your abdominals will help a lot. I use gym machines for forward crunches and another that I sit in to stretch backwards from the hips against resistance, slowly back and then forward. As others have mentioned, stretching your hamstrings will also help. Having a “girdle” of strong muscles around your midsection protects weak points in your backbone and enables you to paddle sitting upright and driving the paddle with rotations of your upper body. Slouching against a high backed seat virtually guarantees pain sooner or later.

Meanwhile, pick up a cheap yoga pad and cut it in two or 3 pieces. Rolled up, this makes a good thigh support and another roll can go behind your lumbar area to cushion your lower back AND bring you to more of an upright position so there is not so much strain on it. A 3 foot long chunk of dense foam pool noodle can also be wrapped across the back of the cockpit to bring you forward and cushion against the coaming with low back boats.

There is also the “Bumfortable”.

may help, but dont forget about a larger back band.

I was rear ended in 1990 and stretching doesnt always help. I am a big guy (6’ 250# some belly but generally just big) and I can put my knuckles on the floor in front of me. I needed a high back band.

I tighten it up so there is pressure while I am sitting up straight and that seems to help. Core strength is a must, and good form also, but there are some things you dont get to exercise away.

My Guess Is That You Are Trying To
Pull yourself forward rather than push yourself forward. That’s how I describe it. Often people will pull on the paddle rather than push on it. That’s what they mean when they refer to rotation.

By pulling on the paddle you use your back muscles. When you push on your paddle you use your stomach muscles.

I tell people to push while keeping their other arm basically stiff. That seems to be easier to grasp that telling them to rotate.

exercises every morning. Try paddler’s stretching search or the basic runner’s regimen for starts.

For example, bend knees, squat with 10 pounds each hand then rotate on hips and stretch arms out together holding paddle distance apart left right left right slowly as for beginning a brace.

Leg lifts, situps, crunches.

rotate arms with wrist weights and hand grips overhead, outfront, behind back and lower than belt, in paddling motion canoe or kayak, and kayak counter rotation each arm opposite.

for the glenohumerous. Maybe beat the shoulder dislocation ?


Stretching Absolutely Will Not Help
If the problem is technique. By pulling the paddle towards you using your biceps your back has to stiffen and stay rigid. Unlike rowing a boat. That will cause pain in the lower back.

I use thighstraps at times. They keep my body for moving back as I push at rotate. My blade is swinging out as my arm pivots. My stomach muscles are helping me power forward.

If you find yourself pulling your blade back towards you. You’re holding your back rigid. That will cause pain.