pain and numbness when paddling

Last October I upgraded my 10 ft. rec boat for a Necky Looksha 14. My problem is that while the seat gave me no problems last year I now suffer increasing pain and numbness in my legs every time I paddle. Last time while crossing a cove (about a mile) against a 15 to 20 mph wind it got so bad I could not feel my feet against the foot rests or tell if I was controlling the rudder at all. I am somwhat worried about being able to safely continue to paddle. Has anyone experienced this and if so what can I do to prevent it.

Stretching program
Just as cyclists/joggers do a lot of stretching

for warmup/cooldown and inbetween training days,

so should kayakers who use those footpegs :wink:

your spine/posture
you may have a problem with your spine or posture in the seat. I have a shifted disk in my back and while it does not bother me in everyday life, in the boat I need to watch how I’m positioned or my left leg goes all numb with “pins and needles”. Also makes rolling on my left side hard, possible, but hard - due to some lack of flexibility to the left. If I’m careful how I sit, then I can avoid it.

Many people find relief…
by putting padding in front of the seat supporting the thighs. A pool noodle does a pretty good job. Not to mention it is cheap, and you haven’t lost much if it doesn’t work.

Forward stroke and rotation
It is a problem if you are leaning back or not rotating your torso quite actively, all aspects of a less then ideal forward stroke. There may be seat things you can do, or consider putting some support under your thighs, but usually the first stop is to get help on the forward stroke. If you are pedaling and rotating you are immediately less likely to get numbness.

Your other issue may be the rudders. Are they the kind where the pedal is fixed and there is a toe control for the rudder, or are the the older style things that don’t give you a fixed position for your feet? In my experience with rudders in my first boat, the fixed pedal kind can help reduce numbness and the older style type pretty much guaranteed I would get numb.

an article
Here’s some info that may help you understand.

what they said, and some more
Provided you do not have any medical problems - herniated discs, inched nerves, etc., I suspect lack of technique and bad fit. Bad fit will be combination of too tight a fit, probably seat as well. Lack of technique - as Celia said, you most likely are not using torso rotation, since when torso rotation is used, two things happen - your fit has to be loose enough to allow for quite a bit of movement in the seat, and you legs are always moving, nothing gets numb.

Here is a blog entry on efficient paddling

Another P.S.
Constant pressure on the ball of your foot will lead to pain and numbness. Torso rotation and knee activity as suggested above lead, among other things, to alternating pressure on your feet. While one leg is pushing the other leg is releasing.

Try Nerve Glides or Neural Glides
Let me preface with you are asking medical questions and I am not a doctor AND I don’t even play one on TV. Of course what helped me might not help you and might even harm you. That’s the downside of getting help on the internet!

Here is what helped me when I was having issues a few years ago. My friend who is a paddler and a really good physical therapist was paddling with me when I was experiencing issues and he explained about how nerves glide in sheaths and they can sometimes become constricted. I won’t try to explain all he said but know that the one thing that really helped for me was a few simple exercises.

The goal is to slide the nerves their full length. I sit on the edge of my counter in the kitchen. With my legs outstretched and I alternate between my toes pointed as much to my head as I can and then as straight as I can. At the same time, I alternate leaning back and then bending forward. The trick is to ‘stretch’ the nerve in only one direction at a time. My toes are pointed to my head when I am leaning back. When I lean forward, I point my toes forward and away from me.

Do a google search on neural glides for sciatica and you will see some more helpful exercises/stretching.

There are also neural glides for the nerves that run from your neck to the tip of your fingers. These are also very useful for hands that go numb/tingle.

Neural Glides

Good overview:

Siting - minimal:

Line drawings:

Exercises depending on where it is: (I like the seated leg kicks explanation)

agree with willi. here’s a program:
Dr. Cox exercises for the back:

I have a chronic back problem that led to the same symptoms you’re having. In addition to chiropractic care, I was given this program. If you do it regularly, it should help.

I think suzanneh offers great advice also. Basically, you should consider it a regular routine to keep the area flexible including nerves and the passages. That was how it was explained to me. I was told that if I wait until I’m in my boat to try anything to minimize it, it’s too little/too late.

One other thing that helps me now that I was reluctant to try at first is yoga.

seat is the most likely cause
numbness and pain after a mile of paddling sounds more like a serious boat fit problem. If the seat contours don’t match your contours you could have some pressure point pushing on a nerve.

Stiff soled booties also help with pressure on the foot pegs.

Lots of people rip out the stock seat in their boats and put in a customized foam seat. I have a bunch of paddling buddies who have solved your problem with one of these.

My boat has one and I can do 25 miles with no issues.

Support Under Thighs

– Last Updated: Apr-13-13 1:38 AM EST –

I would 2nd just trying something to support your thighs so you have the correct knee bend. The pool noodle or a rolled up towel is a simple test.

They do sell things for this purpose...

Also sometimes a bit more padding for the seat helps. The basic stadium seat pad is a good cheap test.

another article
See Issue 4 (Winter 2010) of California Kayaker for an article about outfitting your seat for comfort. Can be read online for free at

Pressure Points, Nerves &Blood Flow
Kayak seating at the best of times is snug and restrictive, and being in basically one position for hours makes comfortable and supportive seating very important.Often the sort of problems you are describing are caused by pressure on a nerve or blood vessel, often in situations where the legs either rest against a seat’s front edge, or the seat is hard enough to press against nerves/blood vessels in the buttocks.

I’ve attached a link to an item I did for Paddling Light re the seating we use in the VKs - have never, ever, in over 10 years in my VGK RightWind, had any more than minor stiffness after hours in the boat. The one time I forgot my pad, I used an old PFD instead - an hour after we set out, both legs were completely numb to the point where I had to be helped to get out, and sit for several minutes before attempting to stand.

The VK ‘seat’ may not be your answer, but any old port in a storm, as the bluewater boys say…

thank you all
Thank you for the very good advice. I have had back problems in the past but with a lot of work and exercise I have been essentially pain free for over 10 years now. It was kind of a shock to have problems in the new seat as I originally thought it was quite comfortable. I will do some stretches and do some adjusting on my seat and foot rests then hopefully I can get out for an hour or two Monday afternoon (my one day off this week) at a local pond and see what happens. I have been working on maintaining good torso rotation since early last year when I began having some shoulder pain (I am told I am getting old, who’d a thunk it) and when I was able to paddle over 10 miles with no pain last year I thought I had it down. I will put more practice into maintaining as good a forward stroke as I can and hope for the best.

Again thank you all for the good advice.


Find a way to add pedaling if possible
Granted this could be tough if you have those darned movable foot pegs for the rudder. But it really helps prevent back and leg pain to pedal, helps rotation as well.

There are systems out there which replace the older ones with something that has a fixed foot peg and a separate toe piece the manage the rudder.

I’ve had the same problem for years.
I’m a tall guy with long legs. When I’m using SOT boats I have no problems. The boats I own are Pygmy boats and my legs are in the boat and pretty much straight out. Not a great position for circulation. As a few here have said, a little support under my thighs to give a little bend in my legs makes a world of difference. For me a rolled up towel is plenty. I haven’t tried the noodle.

If you find something different that works let us know. I’d like to hear what you find.


beanbag seat
There is also another “cheap and dirty” comfortable seat. Take a polyester bag of a suitable size and fill it with plastic granules. Then throw it into the boat and sit on it :). Works wonders. I have a friend who swears by this method of seating (and he is 10x better kayaker than I’ll ever be).

I had real problems
like this when I started Kayaking a couple of years ago. After a season of paddling the problem disappeared. I think two things did it. First, I adjusted my seat (W.S. Zephyr) so that it provides some upward support under my thighs and the foot pegs so I am not jammed in there too hard but I still have very good foot, hip and thigh contact. Second I improved my kayak paddling technique so that I sit erect without much back band pressure, I rotate my torso to apply power as I paddle, and I alternate pressure on my foot pegs from side to side as I paddle. I can paddle for hours and hours without troubles now.

What works
An inflatable paddle float. You can have whatever support you need by how much it is inflated. And the support is broad rather than narrow. And finally, it is a cool way to carry your paddle float.