paddling for people with bad backs

I have been canoeing for years, but my husband has a bad back and is unable to enjoy paddling. Is paddling a kayak easier on the back than canoeing, i.e. less twisting motion? Any info would be helpful.

worse, for my back
I find the seating position in a kayak pretty uncomfortable for my lower back, after an hour or two. Your husband might try sitting on the floor (on a cushion) with his legs out in front of him, together or slightly splayed, to get an idea of what sitting in a kayak feels like.

Is he sitting or kneeling in the canoe? I find that kneeling, which lets my thighs slope downwards, relieves my back. To test out this theory, he might kneel with his butt against something nine or ten inches high and his knees on a padded floor.

As for twisting back and forth, in both canoeing and kayaking one gets the most power by twisting the torso. If he wants to arm-paddle only, it might be easier to kayak than to canoe, if only because kayaking is more symmetric. I haven’t tried out this theory.


I paddle both and I find that kayaking
is a little easier on my back. For me, the most important thing is to stretch before paddling. Don’t approach it like a ride in the car. Do at least 15 minutes of good stretching exercises aimed at the hamstrings, lower back, and if possible, trunk twists. Lunges also are a good core strengthening and flexibility exercise. A good stretch combined with good seat adjustments will make for a much more comfortable day on the water.

Some important considerations for the kayak is seating and back support. Try to get a kayak with a molded or shaped seat, thigh adjustment and seat back rake adjustment. The Wilderness Systems “System 3” seating is excellent for people with back issues. The seatback also adjusts up and down, which makes rolling difficult, but I’m guessing that your husband is not looking to whitewater or sea kayak, where rolling is an essential skill. If touring and flatwater are what he’s looking to do, you should go to an outfitter and try these seats out. Then from there you can find boats with similar setups. Go to an outfitter that offers a paddling demo and try a few boats out.

As in “Adaptive Paddling Workshop”.

Look for them on the ACA website.

It varies with the person
I know some people who went from kayaks to canoes because of bad backs.

He would have to try it and see.

For my chronic bad back , the kayak
that works for me is a sit-on-top beacause I can move around.Something with a large cockpit would also work,I think.Maybe a Wilderness Systems boat like a Pungo with a Phase 3 seat.

With my legs trapped in a SINK,I only last minutes. My canoes are great.

No perfect answer
like above. Paddling though will strengthen the back and sides. If approached moderately and consistently, you can expect to increase back strength which often leads to reduced back pain. You can also go too hard in a craft not well fit for you and increase your back pain. I always try to keep moving and building as I am riddled with arthritis in the lower back. I think keeping moving is best for that condition.

I have a bad lower back
which, I think, means that my lower back muscles are too weak mainly because of my desk job.

I started kayaking and it took a few configurations to get it right for my condition. I realized that I needed ZERO back support in my seat. I have a little bit support in the ‘very lower’ back where the back meets the ham but in general there is nothing I lean against while I paddle. Occasionally I just recline back but not while I paddle.

As a result my back is getting stronger. I no longer need to wait a few seconds when I get up from the bed. I no longer need to step on my tiptoes when going from the curb to the road, I no longer need to hold my sneeze when I’m laying down.

My back has gotten gradually better. It is not great but I can do more now than before.

how old is your husband?

– Last Updated: Jun-02-10 1:01 PM EST –

and what type of back injury? Is he in fairly good shape?
I ask because I have chronic back problems (degenerative disk condition) and fitness is a double-edged sword. If I lose my edge, gain some weight around my midsection, or don't stretch and exercise daily, my back bothers me. Which makes it harder to exercise! So I have to ease back into it and maintain my condition. When I say exercise I'm not talking weights, but flexibility and core fitness (midsection). Simple stuff.
Back to kayaking (sorry for the pun): when I'm in shape, the twisting actually keeps me in shape. I feel like kayaking has been one of the most beneficial activities for maintaining my core and those muscles that take the load off my back.
Canoeing seems to bother my back unless I kneel to paddle. The kayaking stroke seems to spread the stress throughout my body better than a canoeing stroke.

thanks suiram!
I know someone who’ll be interested in this.

One other point.

– Last Updated: Jun-02-10 2:02 PM EST –

Getting in and out of kayaks with a bad back can be a real chore.

I switched to canoe because kayaking hurts my lower back. Sitting in the canoe still kind of hurts my back. Kneeling full time makes my back feel great - but it takes some experimentation with outfitting to keep my knees and ankles happy.

Previous back surgery and rolling your k
I have been paddling now for 3 years with only mild discomfort after an hour in the kayak. Now I am interested to learn to roll a sea kayak

I have had a L5S1 laminectomy and bony fusion 12 years ago with good effect and currently have no back pain.

Does anyone have any informed opinion on the effects of kayak rolling on your lower lumbar spine. Do not worry - I will not take it as medical advice. I am a medical doctor myself - but I guess kayakers will know more about this than most doctors. So - give me your non-professional opinion if you happen to be a kayaker and a health professional.