Say you have....

Back problems sciatica / lower back.

What’s best canoe or kayak?

Everybody is different.
It’s difficult for someone else to know what will help your back problem.

Light weight is always a good quality in a boat for someone with back problems.

Some people with back issues swear by kneeling in a canoe.

Some people swear by sitting in a canoe.

Some people swear by sitting on the bottom of a kayak.

For me, when my sciatica used to bother me a lot, sitting higher up on a canoe seat was the easiest to mount and dismount when the sciatica was bothering me.

Good luck, sciatica can be a real unpleasant malady.

Some folks here who find kayaks uncomfortable are happier in solo canoes. Backbands and footrests seem to be popular with folks who use a double-bladed paddle in their canoes.

Stand-up paddleboard? I know several folks at work who claim that their backs feel better after switching to a standing workstation. They did say it took a few weeks to adapt.

Regular stretching can make sitting in a kayak more comfortable.

Try em
If you can find a local outfitter or a demo days event, head over and try out a few options. Also consider a SOT with a seat. Obviously a lightweight boat will put less stress carrying it around before and after the trip.

Losing weight, strengthening core
Nobody can tell you what will work for your back, but if you are seeing a doctor or physical therapist ask them for information on stretches and exercises to increase your flexibility and strengthen your core muscles that hold up your back. Lots of people who have back problems find that learning how to sit up straight and use their core muscles to paddle a kayak, actually improves their back pain issues. Pinched nerves often arise from too much weight being carried.

Doesn’t matter
Learning to paddle with proper rotation will help that, what kind of boat you do it in isn’t so important as long as it fits right to enable a good catch in the stroke.

Have you had sciatica?
Position does matter with sciatica - I suffered severely with it for several years in my younger days. If the sciatica is bad enough, you might not even be able to get into or out of some seating/kneeling positions without assistance from someone.

Of course, as you say, properly fitting boat and gear and good technique will be very helpful.

Solo Outrigger Canoe with Rudder
Keeps me in the water when my back gives out from paddling kayaks. The rotational movement of the kayak stroke amplifies the pain. While the canoe stroke does not (at least for me). Go test out the strokes first before committing. I personally use the canoe stroke in a canoe to rehab my back for a couple of months before returning to the kayak.

Yes, since long time ago

– Last Updated: May-30-12 3:26 PM EST –

I finally dealt with it after getting off a horse and walking quite crooked, after several years of riding and stuff before that. I had lived with it getting gradually worse because I was willing to hurt rather than take the time to get it handled. Suffice to say I should have had my head examined. I was younger and stupid.

Anyway, my riding instructor told me to get it treated asap because she wasn't sure she should continue to work with someone who was walking off the horse more crooked week by week. So I did, and when it comes up again (it has from time to time paddling or biking), I do the stretches and alignment work and get treatments to knock it back again. I am very fussy about my seat angle because of it. I can kick it off equally easily in a kayak or a canoe if I forget to rotate.

I don’t think anyone can
say this boat or that boat is better than another for people with sciatica. I think it is more a matter of setting up whatever boat meets your other needs so that it is as comfortable as possible. You can kneel, you can sit, you can tip the seat set up so that the front edge is lower than the back edge - that sort of thing. Maybe a saddle affair like some use in white water canoes?

Never had a kayak that …
worked “out of the box”. And I don’t have sciatica problems. I have replaced/modified every stock outfitting on every boat. As I have gotten older outfitting considerations are even more important. Here is my general advice which may or may not work for you. Avoid pressure points. That is, no matter where on your body, if there is one point that receives more intense and/or concentrated pressure, adjust the outfitting to remove it. You may be surprised that there is a separation between pressure points and where you feel pain. You also need to take into consideration that body movement moves pressure points around. Study anatomic diagrams which depict where the sciatic nerve is (it is very long) and verify that you do not have any compression on the nerve either from static sources or moving sources. Bottom line: the boat does not matter. The outfitting matters a lot.

I have a back that is a disaster to the
point where many parts have been removed. I cannot tolerate a SINK, but have 2 SOT that are very comfortable. I have also had 2 solo canoes that were good.

As long as I stretch before and use my doc’s pain control drugs, I’m usually fine.

I do have sciatica
with a permanently numb section on my right thigh as a result of it.

For me, I have a WS Zephyr that I can stay in for over four hours with no issue. Likewise, I have a Jackson Super Hero that I can stay in for hours (as long as I make my roll, that is). Very different outfitting, but they work for me. I have some other boats that aren’t as comfortable, for me. But as everyone said, you would be unique and would need to try out different boats.

I was able to demo the Zephyr for a few hours (for a fee) and then take an all-day class in it before purchase, so I knew I could enjoy it without pain. The Jackson was acquired cheaply enough that I had little financial risk if it didn’t work out, but fortunately it did.

And some people …
And some people like me just swear … a lot.

Recently had a steroid shot in my back and am starting physical therapy for my sciatica.

So far the best set up for me is to keep my canoe seat fairly high, use a canoe seat back, and keep my knees low (usually by crossing my ankles with my knees bent.)

Kneeling doesn’t work for me because with my big EEEE feet and high instep I can’t get my feet under my seat without fear of entrapment.

If you suspect that a high kneel
could work, a pedestal seat can allow both a high kneel and change to sitting without any need for feet to go back under a thwart. Either the thwart can be very high, as high as the gunwale, or the pedestal can be affixed to the bottom of the canoe without thwarts.

Kneeling does straighten the lower spine and it also lowers the angle of the femurs relative to the pelvis and spine. This might reduce stretch on the sciatic nerve, and that might help, or it might not.

Very good points. For some people,
being able to get into and stay into kayaking or canoeing depends on the ability to analyze comfort problems and to re-outfit the boat to correct them. If one can’t do that, it may mean switching from one boat to another until you hit it lucky.

Yes, see the note I added to an earlier
post about a ww type pedestal seat. Such a seat can allow switching from kneeling to sitting and back.

Some are defeated by sitting, or kneeling, not by the direct effect on their sciatica, but by indirect issues such as ankle discomfort when kneeling in a canoe, or poor thigh/knee support when sitting in a kayak. And adding thigh and foot support when sitting in a canoe can help posture and relieve sciatica aggravated by squirming around because of poor support.