sciatia (legs falling asleep)

When I first started kayaking I had sciatia (Legs Falling asleep) after only 15 minutes in the cockpit. More time on the water has helped this issue. In my original kayak I now don’t get sciatia much at all.

I do however have one other kayak which has the deck a bit lower and has a bit more snug fit. This kayak also has a foam seat. In this kayak I still get my legs falling asleep, usually after about 30 minutes in the cockpit.

Is it because my knees are more cramped or is it because my knees are less ‘elevated’ ?

Sciatica is not the casue of your
problem in my opinion. The sciatic nerve runs down either butt cheek and then down the back of the leg. Sciatica (nerve pain) is usually then located in the buttocks and more often the calve. The leg numbness I get in certain boats I believe is being caused by contact pressure in the hip and low back area. It was so bad in my Q boat that I sold it. The Q boat has a high foredeck and thus I had plenty of room to move my legs into different positions. The foam seat I made must have created pinch points that caused the leg numbness. I have had life long back problems, surgery, and various forms of radicular nerve pain including sciatica. Try minimizing contact in your hip and low back area to see if this relieves some of the numbness. Get your abs as much involved as possible as this will stretch your spine to get some of the pressure off of the nerve trunks. As always, this is only one man’s opinion. Best of luck to you. Bill


– Last Updated: Nov-02-10 10:22 AM EST –

interesting coincidence. The boat it happens for me in is the Q Boat and I also have removed the seat and installed a foam seat. When I cut the seat out, I kept the plastic sides, mostly to keep the backband in tact but the back band's effectiveness is almost nonexistent for the way I sit in my boats. I pretty much don't rely on the backbands in my kayaks. I also have back problems but the way I sit actually improved my back since I started kayaking. I will try to cut out the sides to create more space on the sides.

I like the boat a lot for quick day trips when I'm not carrying a lot of gear but I would like to improve the rate of the numbness :-)

Do you think that because we installed a foam seat we have effectively moved our seat BACK closer toward the rear cockpit rim and this way increased contact there and also altered where our lap contacts the foredeck?

P.S. My Nordkapp fits me like a glove :-)

Stretching my hamstrings. Touching my toes, etc. Has helped me greatly over the years. I know seats make a big difference. That is why I most often am paddling the Tarpon 160. But stretching and seat modifications have made it so I can paddle the Solstice GTS

The Solstice GTS is more like a real sea kayak at 21.75 inches wide and 17.5 feet long. I can paddle it for about one day and still walk pretty well the next day. but don’t ask me to paddle it for two long days in a row.

Stretching the hamstrings
and keeping the core strong is key for me. In my Tsunami125 with good seating, I would still get my right lef falling a sleep after an hour or so. I added a memory foam cushion that extended my time by a couple of hours. I started a stretching routine before I got in the boat that worked wonders, allowing me a full day of paddling with only a little soreness toward the end of the day. I puchased a P&H Capella173 at the end of the season and will be picking it up next week. I am curious to see how this seat will work. It’s a simple hard seat with a back band that was very comfortable during my hour of testing before purchase. I’m hoping to shave off thirty pounds before next season, and continue to strengthen my core.

legs falling asleap
I have had this occur periodically while paddling. This issue seem to be caused by an interplay between the paddler, the seat and the back rest. We are all different and solutions will probably also be different. Sometimes both legs are affected but most often its my rt. leg only. The “rt. leg only” indicates there is a structural issue in spine/hips in play, but I’m too old to go down that path.

It has also happened while paddling pack canoes (sitting near bottom with double blade paddle), so I don’t think the deck is a part of the problem for me. I noticed it happens most when I have the foot rests up tight and I’m pushing hard against them. Moving them out a notch or taking the rt. leg off the rests and extending it between the two foot rests usually reduces/eliminated the numbness. One kayak I owned was so bad in provoking this condition that I sold it-others I adjusted some of factors and paddle on.

As noted, it tends to happen less as you paddle more and is helped by stretching.


Thermarest 3/4 Camping Pad…
…works like a charm for us on our VOLKSKAYAKs as seats. We allow it to inflate, fold it double under and single up the back - sit in, then allow air to escape until you barely touch the hull and close the valve. Very very comfortable, warm, good support, soft ridge under the thighs when your butt pushes air forward - it is an amazingly simple, comfortable kayak seat. I have never had any discomfort whatsoever in four to five hour stints in the cockpit. My wife finds hers excellent too, as do other VK builders and paddlers.

Here’s a link to an item, and some pix, of our setup.

sciatica and sleeping leg
I have sciatica and the legs asleep issue is far worse in boats that have a very low deck and no support under the thighs.

My third attempt at finding a boat that fit has me in a WS Zephyr 16 which many say is huge. But it allows a comfortable position for me, and the seat design provides strong support under the thighs, so I can lock in with a little effort, and get out with a slight relaxation of the legs.

I have spent over four hours straight in the boat comfortably, able to walk properly when I get out, etc. If my legs start to tingle now, it is a result of me being nervous and tight, and usually occurs early in a paddle when I haven’t been in the boat for a few weeks. I wiggle my toes and relax, focus on proper paddling form with a little foot peg pressure on the stroke side, and the issue goes away.

I think I need something greater than 45 degrees knee bend, and lower-deck boats don’t do it for me.

very individual thing…
To me it seems the worst is a boat with very low foot area but wide and tall cockpit at the knees. This combo twists my legs out in a way that make them hurt and fall asleep only after a few minutes.

Contrary to some others, I like very little lift under the thighs so I can extend my legs during leg drive or just to stretch. I do like bottom-side thigh/knee support to keep my legs up when splayed for bracing

Brent Reitz in his kayak paddling DVD
spends a lot of time talking about stretching, esp. of the hamstrings,just before you get in ther boat.

Do you have any pictures of how much support under the thighs should be ? (even if it might be an individual thing).

Sorry, no photos handy

– Last Updated: Nov-02-10 8:22 PM EST –

Don't have photos but I feel comfy in the regular Tempest/Zephyr/Tsunami seats with the front flaps barely off the floor - this way they are not in the way of my lower legs when my legs are with knees together. The side of the seat provides support when my knees are splayed apart for bracing. My foam seat is shaped similarly - low in the middle, tall to the sides with some added foam for side support. In narrow boats you can have foam glued to the side of the hull to prop your legs up to the proper position under the thigh braces but in a way that would not prevent you from stretching the legs when you extend them in the middle of the cockpit...

That works for me because I tend to use my legs a lot for leg drive or one leg relaxes down while the other is lifting up a knee for edging. Some others seem to like their lower legs propped-up and that apparently works for them. For me - not so much since, while it is comfy to just sit there, it gets me bruises on the back of my upper legs after some time when I paddle actively.

Only in my WW boat do I have some raising of the center of the seat to keep me better planted but there I don't usually keep my legs in the middle - almost 100% to the side in a bracing position, so I can have the front of the seat taller there.

If you really had sciatica problems …
you would know it. The pain would be more serious and it would not be remedied by adjustments in your boat. Get a diagnosis from your doctor if you are concerned. Having said that, there are lots of aspects of outfitting and boat configuration that affect legs “falling asleep”. These include circulation problems in your legs, seat positioning and design that pinch on your sciatic nerve, feet/foot support problems, etc. Try the outfitting changes first.

My cure for numb legs
I have an Anas Acuta, and had the same issue. The glass Valley seat was a medieval torture device, IMO, so I cut it out and replaced it with a foam seat.

Then I still had the problem, but to a much lesser extent. What I ended up doing was adding a self-inflating foam pad under my thighs in front of the seat, and replacing the pad on the backband with a piece of foam duct-taped to the original backband strap. Voila! Great comfort.

Lift up your thighs a bit, and I bet it feels better.

I will post a link here to the pictures
of my Nordkapp seat and pump pickup. This seat is virtually the same in all of my boats. In the Q boat I would completely lose feeling in my right leg. In the Kapp it is total comfort. The Romany S is even more comfortable. In my Aquanaut RM LV I have trimmed the coaming edges by my hips and kept the factory plastic seat bottom with a minicell back band. For the most part only the very low part of my back (top of butt) touches the backband. Try to keep forward in your stroke. I will sometimes get some numbness working into my right foot and when this happens I rotate my foot inward to stretch my hip flexor and lay on the backdeck to stretch my low back and this will relieve it. The problem goes away after I have generated some body heat. You should also know that I broke off a piece of my L3-4 disc and it fell into my spinal canal, the result has been modest foot paralysis and now some constant numbess in the end of my big toe. Outfitting and its contact on my hips and back were the cause of my problem and I could not solve it in my Q boat. Pictures here:


What does the self inflating pad do when it is in front of the seat? This is the area where the thighs are already elevated. Seems to me there would be no contact with the pad at all or just very little.

foot pegs
When I was first starting out an instructure had me adjust my footpegs - they were sitting too close to the seat. This helped, and continues to help, when I find myself facing the same problem.

I sure hope you’re right!
In my yost-Sea Tour 17R, my bum hurts from the wood seat. And, the 1/2" seat pad made me feel unstable.

I just ordered a kids-size sleeping pad to try this out.

agree sciatica speaks up painfully
however you might have some developing. Once you have full blown sciatica you will know it. Something pinches the nerve and the resulting pains can be very debilitating.

Boat Impacts Position

– Last Updated: Nov-07-10 2:19 PM EST –

Sometimes it's just the boat. I had a QCC700 that I absolutely loved, except for the fact that sciatic pain forced its sale. Did everything suggested down to swapping the seat for one from Pat at Onnopaddles, which increased the seat time to an hour versus the 20 minutes with the stock seat. Finally had to sell it and replaced it with an Epic 18-problem solved. I could pop my knees out for leg drive and the footpegs were closer together.

In the Q Tip, the thigh braces are very low, the seat pan quite short,and the pegs quite wide, forcing you into a splay legged position, which places pressure almost directly on the sciatic nerve. A large number of folks had this same problem in this boat, particularly if you have large thighs-flexibility alone will help but not cure this. If you want to keep the boat, try fabricating a brace that allows you to center your feet, keeping knees together-this will help. With the assistance of another racer, I made mine from an aluminum closet rod hammered flat, and pop riveted curved drilled mounting plates to the rod that I could bolt right to the Toe Pilot controls. I used this in the 18 and it was the bomb. Wish I had tried this before I sold the Q, as it was a good boat otherwise.

Good luck. I sympathize...the pain can be excruciating, and unfortunately once the nerve becomes inflamed, it takes less and less to aggravate it again. Time off is the only cure.