Lower Back Pain


I mostly canoe but my wife and I are interested in getting a Kayak. Last summer we rented ocean kayaks in maine and took them for a tour…about 3 hours into the trip my lower back was in pain and my legs were going to sleep. I adjusted the seat and it relieved me somewhat but I was not comfortable…we want to take an extende trip along the main coast but I do not want to be uncomfortable. If I go to try a kayak I will be comfortable but it is about an hour or so in that I develop the pain and numbness. Does anybody have suggestions as to seats or kayaks that bight be beneficial, I would hate to drop 2 grand and be uncomfortable…

thank you

Comfort in a kayak varies greatly for different paddlers. What works for one person won’t be comfortable for another. There are many different options when it comes to outfitting the cockpit of a kayak for an individuals comfort. You must try different equipment to see what works for you. I doubt that you will find a kayak that has the perfect comfort you need. Plan on buying a kayak that has the handleing characteristics you want and a reasonable fit. Then you can start to adjust and modify the cockpit to your likings. Backrest can be short or tall, stationary or flexable. I have had the best results useing a small backband that supports my lower back and allows me some flexability. Some people prefer a more rigid backrest. If the seat in the kayak doesn’t fit you well you can always change the seat to something else. I have a minicell seat in a couple of my kayaks that gives a great fit. Haveing a seat that gives you support under your thighs will help also. Or you can add some closed cell foam under your thighs for support. Good fitting knee braces will give you a good feel and control of the kayak and help with comfort. Whatever you get you can plan on doing some adjustments and alterations with the cockpit outfitting.

3 hours is a long time in a kayak
if you’re not conditioned. I usually try to get out of my boat every 2-3 hours if possible, and stretch/exercise the legs.

I have also found that back pain can be reduced by good torso rotation. When you paddle a kayak, your elbows should be almost stiff, the motion of the paddle should originate at the torso, just above the hips. Each pull on the paddle should also be accompanied by a push on (the same side) foot pedal. Good paddling technique will involve the entire body and will help prevent the stiffness of inactivity, or constant tension, in back/leg muscles.

Staying “loose” and learning good paddling technique will come with time and experience and hanging out on p.net.

I Really Like
Wilderness Systems’ Phase 3 Seats. They have adjustable thigh support. I can’t figure out why all kayaks don’t have something like it.

Yeah Kudzu,
the outfitting is GREAT on the WS boats. I really like the adjustable hip pads too, just unzip and slide another wedge in. That is a really good system if more than one person will paddle the boat.

Depends on Body and Boat…
…and how the two interact. There’s just too many variables for anyone to say “Do This, and your problem is solved.”

For me, paddling a S&G Volkskayak, the answer is simple - a Thermarest 3/4 Classic self-inflating camping pad, double fold under, single fold up the back - I also pad out the rear of the cockpit with an old PFD, so that the camping pad is even with the cockpit’s rear rim and gives me great lower back support - inflate camping pad, fold, install, then sit in, open valve, let air escape until I just touch the boat’s hull - keeps me as low as possible, nice soft seat, thighs supported by the air my a** displaces forward, and nice and warm in our cold waters to boot. My wife also finds the seating in her Cape Horn 15 very comfortable for longer paddles. We both find that frequent changes of leg position really helps - knees up, knees down, toes in, toes out, etc. We take fairly frequent ashore breaks whenever possible, to both stretch and have a little snack, etc. - after all, we’re not out there paddling kayaks because we’re in a hurry to get somewhere :->))

If possible, you could rent the model or models you’re considering, and try 'em out - some of our local retail outlets also rent boats, and will usually be willing to deduct the rental fee from the purchase price if the boat works out for you.

Technique Counts, Also.
What helps me on long trips is switching muscle groups. Lean forward a while. Lean back a while. Low angle stroke. Higher angle. And yes, occasional breaks out of the boat help a lot.

I tend to fairly tight hamstrings. I’m not real good at touching my toes. If I spend a few weeks stretching I can tolerate a couple of hours in a kayak before my lower back and the backs of my thighs are screaming.

I’ve pretty much given up on kayaks and stick to canoes that I can kneel in. Seems I can do that for days.

I won’t dispute
Anything that has been mentioned already. I’d like to add that support under the thighs is important to me - makes the difference between excruciating pain and comfort. And when I experience leg numbness, short of getting out and stretching, I do “butt clenches”. Left, right, left, right on and on until the numbness subsides. My theory is that the muscle action pumps blood into teh starved areas.


No, really. I do this!

A little rotation goes a long way…
toward better comfort. Muscles that are in motion and being used get a contraction and stretch each cycle and don’t stiffen up. Also need to be actively paddling and not just sitting for this to really benefit.

The common approach of making the seating more comfortable can limit or discourage rotation - and so treats only the symptoms - not the causes.

FWIW - I use bare seat pan and a narrow low backband. After 3-4 hours I get out more flexible than I was when I started. Pretty much zero comfort issues (FYI - I’m 42, overweight, and not particularly flexible. History of lower back problems - cured by paddling!).

Having foam full bulkhead style foot brace surface instead of foot pegs made a big difference too. Didn’t realize how much the pegs mattered until they were gone. Feet will take a lot of abuse with little complaint - but issues there will be felt on up the line.

Any body part locked into one position will cause problems.

heh, heh, heh, he said butt clenches
i’ve heard of this and it makes sense but never thought of it while paddling. i’ll try it.

rafting with your partner and rolling half over while laying back and straightening out really helps.

i’m very long legged and kayak seats are short so i now use the cascade design thigh support cushion and it’s brilliant for the long of thigh.

not paddling hurts
If I go out and paddle the whole time I am in the boat, the paddling helps support my back. If I am working hard, I don’t notice any back problems at all. Sitting in the boat and not paddling for long periods or paddling easy with beginers, murders my lower back. I also found foam much better than pedals for my legs.

Another thing you could try is
grabbing the coaming (cockpit rim) with your hands and pushing yourself off the seat an inch or so. While you’re elevated, do the ‘Kudzu Klench’ and do some hip swivels (like AAAAYlvis) to loosen your spine and strech it out. Doing this exercise every hour or so will keep you more comfortable.

When you put all your weight on the coaming, the boat is much less stable, so be careful.