lower back pain and kayaks

I am a 55 year old woman in good shape (bicycling, hiking). I have had lower back pain for years, but it is stabilized through exercises. However, I cannot sit at a 90 degree angle without pain unless my knees are raised considerably. I must admit that I haven’t yet tried to sit in a kayak, but I would like some advice in advance. Thanks!

You might want to consider
a thirteen or fourteen foot solo canoe instead.

In a kayak your knees are only bent slightly.

In a canoe you can bend them much more.



Try a few…
Some kayaks have very nice padded seats while others have nothing but hard plastic. Some offer very little leg room while others are open above the legs. This time of year kayak sellers often have demo days at a local lake. Try a few…

Back pain
Try yoga too. I have a very bad lower back, but stretching my leg muscles etc. has helped quite a bit.

rent,if you aren’t paddling in windy/wavy conditions then check out something like a kevlar wenona Vagabond solo canoe. You’ll probably go faster than most folks in the average rec/tour kayak.

Same age, same back
Kayaking has actually helped my back considerably. I assume it’s because of core strengthening but my back is so much better now than when I started paddling. It still hurts chronically but I haven’t had the annual ‘OH SH#%’ moment when you know the disc has given up yet again and weeks of pain and spasms are ahead.

Sitting in a kayak has never bothered my back, but make sure your hamstrings are good and loose.

Good luck, take it easy (and take lots of NSAIDS).


I think you need to rent a yak
and give it a try. I too have lower back pain and am going through PT now. My back does not bother me at all while paddling, so it might be something you need to try. When you sit in a yak your knees are bent anyways so it might not bother you give it a try and good luck.

bad back
I have lower spinal damage and severe lower back pain. I resently got into paddleing and love it.

I am some times not able to do the distance or hours in the kayak that some of my kayaking friends do. This is a workable situation, I might call it a day at the lunch break or take more frequent breaks.

You really just need to give it a try.

Different kayaks feel different to the back and changeing leg positions once in a while helps a lot, you don’t need to paddle with your feet against the foot braces all the time. You can alter your paddling position to help.

Good luck


Sit on tops
seem to get a bad rap except they do make nice warm water fishing yaks. I however like mine with a well made high back seat. I can cruise down the river and fish all day long and it feels like kicking back in a nice lazyboy recliner.

most lower back pain…
is associated with bad hamstrings. if they get too tight they pull the lower back out of wack.

i would make sure you limber up before getting in.

I Like WS Seats
Try out a Wilderness Systems kayak. Their seats have adjustable thigh support.

Now if they would just make it easy to adjust it back a little.

bad back
Soda, I am a 50ish female also with lumbar and cervical issues. As they say,I feel your pain!!!I paddle a kayak and have found that I get relief from a SEAL LINE Kayak Thigh Support Cushion. I bought it several years ago. It’s made by Cascade Designs out of Seattle. It rests just under your thighs, elevating them slightly, and is designed for people like us. I also have a gel seat made by Yak something, (help me out here folks, otherwise I will have to go crawl under the house and take off the cockpit cover…)Maybe yakpads. For good measure I also have a Thermo-rest seat cushion. Sounds like overkill but I can only have so many steriod packs a year, and I’m not giving up paddling!!! If all else fails I will look into paddling a solo canoe, which I am already considering…any excuse for a new toy!!!

I have two herniated disks in my lower back and live in constant pain every day. Through exercise and ibuprofen I manage. With the kayak having something under the thigh like the sealine support or a thick pool noodle cut to size has helped out tremendously. Also, have worked on a paddle stroke that involves my lower body by powering the torso rotation with my legs.

I added a whitewater backband that only supports my lower back it sits just above the rim of my seat. Those highback seats encourage leaning which prevents a good rotation and strains my back.

I also own a solo canoe and that works because I can go to sitting and kneeling to change positions for a rest.

I gave up kayaks because of lower back
pain from ruptured discs, arthritis, old age .My solution is 2 ALEVE before I start paddling and I paddle a Tarpon SOT and a solo canoe, both very comfortable. The canoe is the best. For me leg position and being able to shift positon frequently make the difference.

lower back pain and kayaking
I also have a bad lower back and got a WS kayak, largely because of the adjustable seat. Between bicycling which strengthens my lower back and the adjustable kayak seat, I get along fine. Don’t be afraid to give it a try. Jim

I will second the WS Phase 3 seats
they are very nice.

larger cockpit
as people have suggested, get in one and see how it feels. also, i’ve found kayaks with a large cockpit allow me to move my legs around, even sit cross-legged, which helps. when i say large, i mean huge. my cockpit opening is 56"x22".

Same problem
with lower back pain. Have had this for years and 2 years ago had kidney cancer with kidney removed.

I find kayaks with more cockpit depth are a plus, however I prefer solo canoes at this point.

Paddling helped
my lower back problems immeasureably. However that was canoe paddlingsitting and switching. Kayak paddling is still painfull so I second JackL and the String Man; try a canoe

At your likely size…

– Last Updated: Apr-18-07 8:00 AM EST –

I am 55, 5'4" and about a mid-BMI last I checked. I have also done a lot of road biking, tho' I am afraid my Waterford has been pretty neglected the last couple of years because of time constraints with job, kayaking and music. When I retire...

There will be a lot of kayaks that allow for a decent rise from your sits bones to your knee. Most kayaks for "average sized paddlers" still mean average sized guys, so the decks tend to be much higher than the really low ones I prefer. You just may need to be more careful about a few of the newer designs for smaller paddlers and women, where they have finally started getting the deck heights down. But even a lot of them, like in the Hurricane series, still have what I consider to be fairly high decks so they may work for you. Some of these boats are extremely light too.

Just be aware that as the height of the deck and the looseness of the boat's fit increases, it starts making it harder to do a lot of the cool moves and manuvers. So there will be a trade-off between the higher deck/bigger cockpit and how much you can consider taking the boat into more advanced work. If you weren't already active, I'd not mention this. But since you are it seems fair to raise it.

The pad under your thighs should help a lot too.

As to back bands and seat backs, a good back band set low will allow for more variety in your lower back positioning. As you sit in kayaks, look at how the seat attaches and ask about that option if the boat has one of those high seat backs. Most reps will be glad to give you advice on how easy it'd be to swap out a high seat back for a back band.

On seating position overall though - if you learn a proper forward stroke you are rotating that lower back, so the only restraint should end up being your hamstrings. It should actually strengthen and help your lower back done right. I well know that hamstrings tighten up from biking, but I'd strongly recommend that you hook into some yoga classes or something to get more flexibility. It seems that you have been able to back off age's assaults in a way that allows for full activity so far, and I suspect that you could do the same with paddling.