Numb feet/legs

I know I’ve seen this question come up before here, but I didn’t find much info using the search feature here.

I have an earlier Wilderness Systems Cape Horn 150 with the old style one piece molded seat with the slip on foam back and seat covers. I like this boat for what I use it for, but the seat is killing me. I did the Ohio River Way Paddlefest yesterday; while it was a blast, 8 miles of moderate paddling did a number on my feet and legs. It’s a good thing there here helpers at the takeout, because as soon as I tried to put weight on my left leg, I nearly collapsed. I would have gone back into the river had I not been caught. This wasn’t just feet that fell asleep either; my left foot was numb for HOURS after I had finished.

I actually lowered my foot pedals for the trip, but I still wound up with problems. I like to keep my thighs high into the braces (more of a whitewater position) which I’m sure doesn’t help and the non-adjusting seat is probably what finishes me off.

I was thinking about adding stick on pads to the molded in thigh braces, sawing out the back portion of the seat assembly, replacing it with a real back-band and trying to find some kind of good cushion to place in the remaining seat pan. I’d really like to find something that supplies more support to my legs, but aside from gluing in a minicell wedge, I haven’t seen any aftermarket ideas that approach modern adjustable kayak seating.

If you were in my position, what would you do (don’t say buy another boat)?



Numbness is usually the result of blood flow being cut off/reduced for a relatively long period of time. A constriction at the upper rear thigh is most likely your problem, and can probably be solved by adding a seat cushion of some type and by adding a set time period of stretches to your paddling routine. Make it an unbreakable rule to stop paddling at set intervals (start with once every hour or two, and adjust as needed) and do a series of stretches which relieve the constriction and let you move around a little. The stretches don’t have to be fancy or long - 15-30 seconds should do it.

If you can find a second stable, comfortable position from which to paddle, it’s easier - just switch back and forth between the two positions. That’s usually the solution in a canoe. However, most kayaks only have one good position, so just learn to live with it by doing hourly stretches.

Also, for longer term relief, you may want to build up your leg muscles, especially if you are fairly young and if you think your legs are underdeveloped relative to your body size. Things like bike riding and running and special exercises could build up the muscles that surround the blood vessels and keep them from being compressed, even under the strain of long periods of sitting in one position. However, there may be unique factors with your individual situation which make you more prone to numbness no matter what you do exercise-wise.

Next time you’re out…

– Last Updated: Jun-28-09 5:59 PM EST –

Try some support under your just might be very surprised... long ago I purchased my first kayak (a Corona) and was having somewhat the same symtoms...went back to the shop and was shown some outfitting on a well reguarded staff member of the shop's boat. He had hip pads glued to the floor to support his calves... I've literally never experienced that numbness again. I don't paddle that boat much any more but I've outfitted my many boats the same way. I've seen lots of outfitted yaks, but never outfitted like mine. I do see inflateables to support thighs, but never see any calf support, Just try it!

I use an inflatable cushion
that fits under my thighs for sciatica which comes and goes. It could work for any part of your legs and take the pressure off the thigh near the seat which may be cutting off circulation. It is made by Seal Line, is self inflatable/deflatable to fit you just right. Not cheap but worth it to me. I also use a yak pad if i am paddling on a hard seat which works great too!

I do a similar thing occasionally, but use my paddle float partially inflated under my thighs just in front of the seat. It doesn’t fix the problem, but I last longer before the pain sets in. If you have one, it’s worth a quick try to see if it helps.

I find myself being drawn to the open canoe side of things more every day. I’ve dropped the whitewater 'yaking aspirations and am determined to make a go at it in an OC-1. Besides just feeling more at home with a single blade, in these boats I never have leg or butt problems. However, it’s awfully hard to beat a sea kayak for carrying a moderate load while going fast over distances without having to worry about conditions (too much).

I was worried because the numbness didn’t feel like a leg that had fallen asleep. There was no tinglyness, just outright numbness in my entire left leg. My left foot stayed semi-numb for several hours after I got home.

Jackson Kayaks makes something called the “Sweet Cheeks” that they install in most of their boats. It’s essentially an air bag full of poly beads you leave a butt print in and then suck the air out of to hold the shape. I rented a Jackson Fun for a class and the feature was tres cool. They sell this toosh pad separately, but it’s a $60 part.

Besides Jackson’s pad, what’s the latest advance in seating outside of trying to kludge a Phase III seat into this boat?


Welcome to the Numbness club
First Work on you:

Do more hamstring stretches. If you can touch your toes then work on touching your nose to your knees. Flexible hamstrings solve a lot of kayaking problems. Learn to stretch them in the boat too.

Then Work on the boat.

1)Raise the seat if you can if there is room so the thigh pads do not compress your legs then raise the seat with a simple foam pad. it’s about changing the angle of your hips more than adding padding. Since my boat has very close thigh pads I just put a foam pad on the back half of the seat and it worked immediately!

2) Support the thighs. The best thin for me when my thighs needed support was using the paddle float here. Other have used cushions, custom foam support and even water bottles.

3) move the foot pegs forward a little or replace them with a foam block. Foam is so much nicer than those hard pedals.

Keep tinkering and stretching and it should get better.

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A word of warning . . .
I write this because many of us are in the 50+ club and unaware of the possible risks of sitting immobile for long periods at our age.

Last year, I had a Deep Vein Thrombosis in my right leg after remaining immobile in bed for a couple days after a medical procedure. While the cause had nothing to do with paddling, one of my nurses - also a kayaker - warned me of significant risks that would come if I do not maintain proper circulation - including routinely standing up, walking around and stretching, after every hour or two of kayaking. Also stressed was the importance of maintaining proper hydration.

Your discussion of your symptoms alarms me and I encourage you to get a medical evaluation, along with taking the above precautions. My leg stayed swollen for over four months, even on the medication, until I started taking Nattokinase, which dissolved the clot within four days.

DVT is a serious, life-threatening condition and even young people can develop it - especially while staying immobile on long airline flights.

I use the supplied Therm-a-rest self-inflating cushion in my Pygmy kayak, along with the supplied backband, with no problems, but I do get out periodically to stretch and move around.

Good luck with resolving your problem.

Best to be mobile in kayak then

– Last Updated: Jun-29-09 1:58 AM EST –

Keep moving, good posture, use legs. Fixes circulation in the short term AND back issues over time

Lily dipping is bad for back and circulation, so are gizmos that address symptoms, while letting bad habits slide and making things get worse over time.


– Last Updated: Jun-29-09 8:59 AM EST –

Actually, there was a riverboat about 2/3 of the way down stationed for people to get water,walk around, stretch, etc. which I did. At that point, I felt fine. I got back in the boat and took off, noting how slow I was progressing; that cool down cost me a bit and it took me 5-10 mins. to get back in the groove. Once I hit it, I decided to pick up the pace and really push the last few miles. It was this last leg where my foot and leg went numb; I didn't notice it. I was pushing *hard* off of the pegs.

Throughout the trip, every once in a while I'd stop, take my feet off the pegs, stretch some, flex my posterior, take a drink of water and then continue. I've experienced numbness on occasion over the years in my other boat, but nothing like this. I should add that I'm 36 and though have been piloting a cubicle too much lately, felt really good at a brisk pace on the trip. On the other hand, I wasn't endowed with much padding on my posterior, my hamstrings can be a little tight sometimes and my calves are often like banjo strings. I can't remember the last time I was able to touch my toes (most of my height is in my legs). I definitely should have stretched better before starting.

I use the back support to keep my back upright (no reclining) and try to practice good posture, but on top of needing to limber up, I think the outfitting in this boat is lacking. The seat does not adjust in any way except for moving the back forward and back a bit. Perhaps I'm way off base, but I'm thinking I managed to put too much pressure on my sciatic nerve; it felt like somebody gave me shot of novocaine in the bum



make sure
there is no constant pressure. The combination of liking to keep your knees high and the increased numbness ocurring when you were pushing with your feet harder, leads me to suggest making sure that you’re not crammed in so tight that you never relieve 100% of the pressure from the bottom of your foot, and therefore whereever the opposing pressure is taking place. You should be able to straighten your legs while your foot is still on the foot pedal.

I also recommend being mobile within the kayak. Don’t have a lead butt that never shifts weight around. Be aware of the very beginnings of discomfort, and actively try to change movements to see if you can make it go away. You can do a lot to increase blood flow and keep blood circulating through your legs while on the go (as long as the fit isn’t too tight).

What I do
I am 51. I change my posture during long trips, alternating between “good” and “excellent” postures. I will lean forward for stretches.

Also, I take a NSAID (Ibuprofen) prior to leaving. Seems to help.

Here’s something fun to try!
I never thought much about it, but I assumed it was pinched nerves. No matter, the effect is the same. Depending on where and when you are paddling, it’s great fun to pop your skirt and sit up on the back deck, right over the cockpit bulkhead. It’s a bit easier to maintain your balance if you leave your legs in the water. Paddle around a bit and try putting your feet up on the seat. Be ready for a swim! Of course you will be doing this with your paddling friends around, so it’s a good way to practice your assisted and self rescue drills. While you’re at it, re-enter and paddle around with the boat full of water for awhile. Sculling and static braces are much easier to learn with a boat full of water, as are basic rolls. Of course you will be doing all of this in familiar water of known depth and bottom conditions. A bit this and you will forget all about those leg discomforts. It’s a lot of fun and laughs. Bring a camera.

Know the Cause to Know the Solution

– Last Updated: Jun-29-09 12:08 PM EST –

It is great to hear how folks have alleviated it, but like some have posted it is really important to discover the cause of it NOT just the solution. Here are some NOT ALL causes of numbness and falling asleep of legs and feet.
You may, repeat may, have a serious condition that is showing up here, OR a minor condition that if you do not solve it can become a major if not permanent condition leading to nerve damage, or just a minor condition that just needs a PALLIATIVE cure (just relief not solving the cause).


Sitting With Legs Crossed
Sitting with legs crossed, sitting on the foot, prolonged sitting or squatting, or a wallet in a back pockett may press on nerves in the leg resulting in leg “falling asleep” . This is due to direct pressure on leg nerves or due to cut-off of blood supply to these nerves (ischemia) because of compressed leg arteries.

Symptoms:numbness, tingling or innability to move a leg or foot
symptoms resolve in few seconds or minutes after pressure release and stretching the leg in extreme situations prolonged leg crossing or other forceful position COULD CAUSE PROLONGED OR EVEN PERMANENT DAMAGE of peroneal nerve.

Sciatica is a common name for lower back and leg pain, caused by any disorder involving sciatic nerve (listed below). Common symptoms are: pain in the lower back and/or buttocks
pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the leg or foot, usually on one, but occasionally on both sides

Herniated Lumbar Disc
Bulging or herniated disc in lumbar spine (mostly between 4th and 5th lumbar, or 5th lumbar and 1st sacral vertebra) can press on roots of sciatic nerve that innervate the leg. A common cause is degenerative disc disease (DDD).

A disc may herniate gradually or suddenly, usually after lifting a heavy object from the ground. Symptoms may include: pain, tingling or numbness in the lower back, buttock, thigh, calf, or foot, usually only on one side worsening of symptoms during sitting, prolonged standing on one place, sleeping, in certain movements, bending or lifting objects from the ground; symptoms may be relieved by walking or swimming

Cauda equina syndromeis
typically caused by a large herniated lumbar disc that presses on lumbar nerves. In the lumbar spine the nerve roots and nerves are spread out like a “horse’s tail”, hence the Latin name “cauda equina”. Symptoms are frequently bilateral: low back pain, bilateral lower extremity weakness, numbness around the anus and on inner thighs (saddle anestesia), bladder and bowel incontinence.

These symptoms are a surgical emergency.

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis is narrowing of spinal canal in lumbar region. It may be genetic, but it is usually due to age related overgrowth od vertebral bone that narrows the spinal canal. Symptoms are like in herniated lumbar disc (see above)

Spondylolisthesis (Greek spondylo = spine, listhesis = to slip or slide) refers to slippage (usually forward) of a vertebra and the spine above it relative to the vertebra below. Disorder may be congenital, or due to age related degeneration, trauma or operative injury. Symptoms are like in herniated lumbar disc (see above).

Appreciate your info
and taking the time to post it all. My doctor dismisses my sciatica complaints as they are off and on- wish i could find a good doctor someday.

when you find one a massive difference
I have been victorious over several life threatening, vision threatening, and not being able to walk threatening events.

The best doctors are not just head and shoulders above the rest, they prolong and increase the quality of your life,

not just in acute situations, but help you to prevent and live fully.

go for it.

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36…uh oh
I remember when a bike racing buddy and I were pushing 36 and we were 20lbs above race weight.

“this is when it happens you know”…


“accidents, injuries, a few years off and things go to hell, I’ve seen guys get heart attacks at 41”

Just kidding. Definately redo your seat but I’d suggest full foot rests and not just the balls of your feet. A nearly deflated thermarest pad is good first aid but doesn’t replace a good fit. After that your comment too much cubicle time makes me think of sitting in chairs as the bane of modern man. Cut off the back of your chair or start doing business in your cubicle sitting on the floor in a kayak seat with a laptop on a breakfast tray. Then start wearing shorts and sandals to work.

appreciate your perspective

This boat has a rudder
If I have the pedals far enough forward that I could straighten out my legs, I wouldn’t be able to steer very effectively nor would my thighs be anywhere near the braces. I don’t use the rudder very often, but I want to retain the functionality.

The Cape Horn has the older style plastic foot pedals that lock into a “C” shaped rail which then slides in another rail bolted to the boat. I sometimes push hard enough to blow the pedals (left one most of the time) right out of the tracks. Because of this, I’ve been thinking about ripping out the pedals and replacing them with Yakima rails if I can find them.

I’m beginning to get the picture that I’m not adjusting my outfitting right and that it’s not really up to the job.


Finding a good doctor…
Do you know what they call the guy who graduates last in his medical school class?