Can Kayaking harm cervical spine?

I understand how bad radicular pain can be. Sorry it caused you trouble and still lingers.
I haven’t had it quite as bad as you, but it was getting to be quite bad, preventing me from sleeping. Thankfully it’s moderating a bit now. The disc is shrinking away hopefully.

My case sounds quite similar to yours. I also have single nerve root with no spinal cord impingement. Most surgeons recommend ACDF for my case (I’ve seen four surgeons now -two neuro and two ortho). They call ACDF “gold standard”, however a couple said posterior foraminotomy is an option too - with one even recommending it over ACDF, because like you say it preserves mobility. I don’t want to lock my joints up and trigger adjacent damage if I can help it. I would need two level ACDF using screwed cages.

I also have primary doctor, physio, etc. I’ve had many many scans. But medical experts can only advise you so far. Based on your knowledge and experience I would value your advice as much as anyone elses!

In retrospect were you glad you went with the posterior? Did you ever feel you should have had it fused?

What caused your acute/chronic neck pain? How is it associated with the radiculopathy and/or the procedure?

I agree with dr. pblanc who says if it is not causing discomfort, it is likely ok to do it.
Pain is nature’s way of telling us something is wrong.

Or, as my personal physician, dr. vinnie boombotz says, “If it hurts when you do this, don’t
do this”

Or as my brain tells me, just do it! If I didn’t do activities that hurt, I’d be stuck in this chair reading. I’ll trade a few hours of paddling for a couple of days of pain.
I’m sure there are legions of people with arthritis making the same decision.

There comes a point where pain by itself cannot be the stopping factor, as Sing says. I have a litany of stuff that can hurt from prior activities if I aggravate things just right. All it means is that I stop doing what I was that was directly bothering it for a moment, while I do stretches or heat pads or whatever else to knock the response down. And figure out what body part needs to be stronger to protect that area of vulnerability.

Then run the program to do the above remedies.

The question at any new doc’s about whether you have pain anywhere is always a hoot for those who have been physically active for decades.

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I sent you a PM.

Celia… After all the decades of outdoor play and hard on the body work it’s easier to list what doesn’t hurt. Pretty much neck to knees is the only area with chronic issues!

Motion is lotion.

I never stopped running, doing hard labor and hiking until I was forced to . As a result, I’m afraid the engine and it’s on board computer will be operating nicely long after the wheels come off. Thankfully, paddling, with some help from my friends, is still great.

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I don’t recall straining my neck while paddling, but definitely have strained my neck multiple times lifting and carrying canoes and kayaks.

I am a retired orthopedic surgeon and avid kayaker. Correct forward stoke mechanics involve torso rotations, not so much neck rotations. Torso rotations involve primarily the lower (lumbar) back, not the neck (cervical) area and those movements don’t require any extreme rotations. It seems unlikely that your cervical issues are related to your kayaking. I’d agree with your surgeons and physiotherapist.
The kayaking activity that I think puts the most stress on the back are sweep rolls, especially if done forcefully instead of gently and gradually.

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I was an avid bike rider and eventually in my late 60’s had spinal problems. Had a spinal surgery which was successful. Never thought my problems on 3,4,and 5 were related to bike riding. Genetically we have the hand we were dealt. Being active is its own blessing.

Here is a snap shot of Tim Brabants at full rotation. In my opinion this involves neck rotation.


The torso is perpendicular to the camera, so here it is with head flipping back and forth, i.e. showing neck movements with respect to the torso throughout the stroke:


My issues may have nothing to do with my paddling, but surely forward flatwater paddling involves twisting of the neck?

We need lots more than a still shot from one position to evaluate. A photo takes a three dimensional subject and flattens it to two dimensions. This can hide, or paradoxically distort, the actual three dimensional position. This photo may not be full neck rotation. Kinematic stroke analysis would require video from at least two, preferably more, positions. The ideal position for rotation would be top-down, not frontal. But then top-down can distort bending (flexion-extension) positions.

In watching some paddling videos and then sorta moving through some motions myself, I think the majority of the spine twist comes from lower than the neck.
The motion goes through the whole back but is probably centered closer to the shoulder blades.

It really doesn’t matter what level the torso twist is occurring at, whether the thoracic spine or the lumbar spine, or both. When I am paddling using a double bladed paddle and good form, my shoulders rotate up to about 45 degrees laterally to each side relative to the axis of my legs and hips.

Sit in a chair and rotate your shoulders 45 degrees to each side, keeping your head aligned with your shoulder plane. There will be no rotation about the cervical vertebra but your head will rotate 90 degrees relative to the axis of your hips and legs.

Now do the same thing keeping your head fixed directly forward. Your head will no longer rotate relative to the axis of your hips and legs, but will rotate through 90 degrees relative to your trunk. In other words, the only way you can keep your head facing forward as your shoulders rotate through 90 degrees is through the rotation of the cervical vertebrae upon each other. If you are like me and have significant cervical spinal degenerative disease, you will not only feel but actually hear the result of the rotation of the cervical spine required to keep your head facing forward.

Jim, When you paddle with correct forward stroke you rotate your torso, but your head doesn’t rotate, and thus your C spine has to twist. This is shown in the images above.


Yes your torso rotates the most. Your torso rotates a lot, and your head doesn’t, and thus there is twisting of the C-spine. Twisting your torso +/-60 degrees and keeping your head still is the same as keeping your torso still and twisting your head +/- 60 degrees. Either way there is +/-60 degrees motion between the head and torso which needs to be taken up by the C-spine.

I have more than a little qualification to comment in the matter which is why I recommend this forum is a poor choice for asking this question. Not only are we not aware of OP’s medical history, but we are not aware of the technique employed by OP in paddling.

While kayaking and paddling is extremely low risk and low stress for the cervical spine with just some basic twisting if done correctly we have no idea how OP paddles! Even seeing videos we don’t know how OP paddles with different boats, in different conditions, with different clothing (tiny bathing suit only in August vs dry suit w/ 3 layers now) or if their technique changes with sustained effort or fatigue.

The truth is that everyone thinks they are doing fine until someone more knowledgeable tells them what they’re doing wrong. I am not saying OP is paddling incorrectly but if you paddle incorrectly you’re doing it because you don’t know better and there’s no way to self police. And if we are not sure about OP’s technique OP could be using a variety of harmful or toxic motions unbeknownst to anyone then we can’t really give very valid advice one way or the other.