Lower Back Numbness

I recently purchased a CD Sirocco. Paddled in it for about 2 months with relatively no aches or pains. The past 2 trips my lower back would ache and eventually go numb and left leg would really stiffen up!

Purchased a IR backbend which helped a little but back would still go numb.

Any advice on what to do to cure this ailment?

Thanks for any help. Chef Mike

Your lower spine and/or pelvis are most likely the root of your ailments. If your paddling posture and seat-footpeg relationship hasn’t changed, then most likely YOU have. In order for your body to receive optimum nerve impulses your musculoskeletal system needs to be free of stressful imbalances. Consult a chiropractor to see if you’ve developed structural misalignments which are interfering with your body’s function. He/she will likely provide you with a stretching program to keep you on the water once the imbalances are corrected.

See a doctor, who will probably…
refer you to a physical therapist.

After my first year of paddling, which was in a rec kayak, I had back aches and tightness in the right hamstring and butt area. The ache was harming my performance while climbing steep and/or long grades on a mountain bike, as well as being generally uncomfortable.

Doctor checked for physical problems requiring immediate attention…nothing. Prescribed some stretching exercises which helped a tiny bit but didn’t solve the problem, then referred me to a PT. This didn’t happen till the following spring after the back pain started. About this time I also began paddling a different kayak, much narrower and with a nice hipband instead of a high seatback. The pain was still there at first.

The PT, or rather, two PTs working together, discovered that I had an intermittent twist of one of the lower vertebrae which resulted in one side of the pelvis being slightly tilted. So sometimes my spine was straight and sometimes it wasn’t. They admitted they could not tell WHY it was like that, but gave me some more exercises to do. The goal was to strengthen some neglected stabilizing muscles and connective tissue in the abs, sides, and lower back to make up for the spine’s intermittent kink.

To make a long story short, the therapy worked. Though I only went for a few weeks of visits, I religiously continued doing the exercises (still do), and the back pain is gone.

Put something under your thighs,
or consider changing the angle of your seat, building it up in front. The leg problems and numbness are common and related to pressure on the sciatic nerve. The outfitter where you purchased your boat amy be able to help you with this. Also, make sure you are using good technique with your forward stroke.

Thighs, Yes
If you don’t have something under your thighs, by all means put some foam under them. Even a rolled up towel will help a lot. Support under your lower calves / upper ankles makes for less stress also.

Support and technique
Backband should help over time. Upright posture and good raotation is very important for releiving strain, aiding circulation, and building support muscle strength.

I used to have lower back trouble - as in going out/spasms laid up for several days each episode - and paddling has relived it entirely (fingers crossed).

The numbness you describe does sound like the common nerve pressure issue. Thigh support usually fixes it. Rig your own or try something like the SealLine Kayak Thigh cushion. Self inflating so support is adjustable. Does the trick.

I’m selling mine (used once - in classifieds here) as I have not needed it since replacing my foot pegs with a full foam bracing surface.

All that added foot comfort and support helps everything up the line! Funny how rarely anyone mentions footpegs related to these issues - except to check their position. I guess because most see that as the only option? With feet stuck in one place (and often not all that comfortable of a place) nothing else can be at it’s best. Sort of like the way a pair of good running shoes magically aleviates many knee and back complaints from runners.

good advice
These first two posts are good advice. I wouldn’t wait for it to go away.

I don’t want to scare you, but your description fits the symptoms I developed just before my L4 and L5 disks let go (1 herniated and 1 torn). Mind you, I ignored the symptoms and continued to put stress on my back, so my negligence added to my injury. I would see your regular physician and ask for a referral to a physical therapist, someone in pain treatment, and/or a chiropractor (make sure you get a good reference on this last one). Likely you will be given stretching and torso-tuning exercises to prevent further injury and you’ll be fine in very little time.

Again - not trying to alarm you, but you don’t want to be out in the middle of the sea when your disks fail.

I appreciate everyones responses.

Will look into bracing my thighs, checking foot peg adjustments first and hope for the best. More excercise will become part of the regiment.

Could you be more specific?

– Last Updated: Mar-24-04 10:16 AM EST –

Seakak, can you describe the exercises that you do? I seem to have the same problem.

link to cox exercises
My chiro gave me some exercises, I believe developed by a Dr. Cox. My Physical medicine doctor supports these.

Here is a link:


I believe these serve as stretching but more importantly serve to strengthen the torso and make it more flexible. All I know is the more I miss doing these, or getting regular exercise, the more my back bothers me.

How are your footpegs set?
If you’ve got them so far back that you’re really wedged in the boat, it can cause all manner of problems. Move them forward untily you can fully straighten your legs with your feet comfortably on the pegs. You’ll still be able to brace against them by flexing your feet forward, but you’ll be much more comfortable.

Maybe, except
not everyone is comfortable with legs as stretched out as that - and may have higher decks and need some bend in their legs to make thigh contact.

Good to be able to strech out, but a bit more bend in the knee can relax the lower back a lot for some folks.

Remember B, you like LV boats and build masiks into you composite boats to facilitate a more straight legged SOF seating position! Not many paddling anything but SOFs are comfortable sitting that way at first.

I’m probably somewhere inbetween - with just enough give in the foam that I can lock out my knees if I feel like it - but rarely do. Legs are usually a bit bent and I brace with whole leg - not just foot. Full foot brace surface is so comfortable (partly due to your 15 degree tilt recomendation)!

Stop using your back and use

– Last Updated: Mar-28-04 4:11 PM EST –

your legs. Move your foot begs so that your knees are slightly bent and so that you can make contact with your thigh braces. This, I think, will help you position your body to use a broader range of muscle groups possibly alleviating the strains on your back. Think torso rotation. It seems very common that weak technique and sore backs go hand in hand. The pain is from damge that occurs when the muscles are overused. Obviously I know nothing of your forward stroke and I dont assume that it needs help but my back use to suffer until I learned how to make my boat fit me and I could use my lower body to support me. Now I have days when I really dont want to get out of the boat unless it gets dark or I am starving.
I guess I would say try some different things with the foot pegs and see if any of these changes help your back. Personally I wouldn't put anything under my legs when you could get the same effect by moving the footpegs forward. And I would die if i had to paddle with striaght legs. That would kill me.

It doesn’t matter…

– Last Updated: Mar-28-04 11:05 AM EST –

...whether you paddle with your knees bent or not, the footpegs should still be set so that you can straighten your legs if you want to. When you don't need a solid brace, your legs will be 1/2" - 1" from the knee/thigh braces. This allows you to be relaxed in the cockpit, but still be able to instantly brace against the knee/thigh braces simply by flexing your feet. I found this out long before I switched to low volume boats and a straight-legged paddling position. I agree with you that many - probably most - people are more comfortable with their knees bent somewhat, but the key thing is to be relaxed in the boat and not to put unnecessary pressure on your feet and back by wedging yourself in.

It doesn’t matter?

– Last Updated: Mar-29-04 6:01 AM EST –

Thats like saying forward stroke technique doesn't matter. I would think that having your footpegs set to offer up a platform to work from would be critical to a solid forward stroke. Straight legs are a surefire way to inhibit a decent torso rotation. The legs are extremely important in providing a solid paddling posture that includes a straight spine. Bent legs allow the lower body to be used. Straight legs don't. Maybe it is my imagination but my legs muscles seem to be used with each stroke. I think that over the years, you are the only straight leg advocate I have heard. Paddlers I know that paddle any distance in a sitting use bent legs which seems far more condusive to their solid forward stroke with a decent torso rotation. Without that leg involvement in your torso rotation, you are asking a lot from your lower back muscles. How far are you getting in a sitting with straight legs? If it's very far I think you are an anomaly. I would suspect that 5 or 6 miles of that and I would be a hurtin puppy. Twenty miles of that and I would be very much done.
I paddle a boat with a 14" high deck and have the footpegs adjusted so that when my feet are in contact with them the upper legs are up against the deck locking in my lower body. My legs are slightly spread out to the sides. It is not tight but there is not much play. If I had to stretch out to touch the foot pegs my forward stroke would suffer.
I am not saying there is a right way or a wrong way to sit in a boat. Just that there may be a tremendous advantage to using the footpegs to secure the lower body from moving around allowing for more twist out of the torso. Does that make sense at all?

You missed the point…

– Last Updated: Mar-30-04 1:52 PM EST –

...and have taken the discussion in an entirely different direction.

Go back and read my posts again and you'll see that I wasn't telling him that he should paddle with straight legs, but that his footpegs should be set so that he can straighten his legs if need be. You can do that and still have a solid platform to push against; you simply have to flex your ankles a bit. Leaving that degree of freedom eliminates unnecessary pressure on the feet and back.

As for straight-legged paddling it works just fine, as it has for arctic peoples (particularly Eastern arctic) for thousands of years. According to you, their paddles can't possibly work either, but they do, too. It's a different paddling technique that requires adaptation and a boat specifically set up for it. If you don't want to believe it that's your perogative, but it doesn't change the facts. I've tried to explain it to you before, but you refuse to listen, so I'm not going to bother rehashing it again. If anyone out there is interested in the subject, feel free to contact me directly.

I thought the point was about

– Last Updated: Mar-31-04 6:06 AM EST –

back pain?
I dont believe I missed the point at all. I was trying to help someone avoid unwanted lower back pain by using their head. It had nothing to do with greenland paddlers or their ancient techniques. Talk about a new direction.
Straight legs wont help someone avoid back pain. Loose legs arent going to help improve someones forward stroke technique. Loose legs are going to inhibit torso rotation. I thought I hit the nail on the head. Maybe I got it all wrong? Or maybe you are as stubborn as I? Do you think that you only need the support of foot pegs once in a while for when paddling gets tough. I tend to think that they can be used with each stroke to take advantage of torso rotation. That might sound foolish to you, obviously, but I think it can make a huge difference.
Brian I thought you were avoiding me. I was hurt. Glad to see you reached back a couple of pages to correct me. I was beginning to think you had rose above this kind of discusion. :)

No, you did miss the point…
…and have done so again, but that’s nothing new.

Of course footpegs are useful on every stroke; I never said anything to the contrary. But, you don’t need to be pushing hard against them or to be wedged into the knee/thigh braces on every stroke. You only need to push enough to provide a stable platform for your stroke. That’s all that’s necessary in order to maximize torso rotation. It can easily be done with the footpegs set loose enough to allow leg extension. Get it? It ain’t rocket science and it seems you’re the only one here who can’t understand it.

BTW, I wasn’t looking for you, I simply went back and checked out the threads I missed after being off the forum for a couple of days. Don’t flatter yourself.

Scott, my boat is anything but low-volume (CD Squall), esp. for someone of my size.

However, there is definitely a sweet spot in footpeg position in which I can paddle with legs bent and easily contact thigh braces without much “slop”, yet can still straighten my legs while keeping feet on the pegs. If I move the pegs one notch farther away, contacting the thigh braces is iffy and the boat feels “loose”. If I move them one notch closer, my knees are solidly in contact with the braces 100% of the time but my back is also jammed against the backband, which is uncomfortable.

The difference in notches is not huge, but it is enough that I have to use two different settings with my two different pairs of paddling shoes. That is now sensitive a back can be to positional changes, even in a non-low-volume boat.

Butt bucket
One of my paddling buds is suffering from lower back pain. He paddles a Pygmy Osprey, and has the stock backband and Thermarest seat. My hypothysis is that he needs a contoured seat, with a butt bucket - such as a custom contoured minicell seat cut out to match his posterior. Anybody have a success story regarding switching from a Thermorest to a better seat?