Will kayaking cause back issues?

I just started visiting a chiropractor for some lower back issues which are work related,told the doc that i was an avid mtnbiker and recently started to kayak.

Well…to my surprise,he said biking was fine “non jumping” and that kayaking puts a strain on ones back with the sitting and twisting motion that is involved.

Would like to here from experience on this.

Chiroquackers sell snake oil…
Ive never had so much as a twinge of back pain from paddling. Strengthening the core is always good for the back.

My lower back is a disaster . It has
always felt better after paddling, and I agree that it strengthens your back.

The danger points are loading and unloading the boat. I have damaged myself and the vehicle when I’ve lost control at those times.

As with other sports,
gradual conditioning, proper technique, good ergonomics and regular stretching will do wonders to prevent injuries.

My back can be stiff after paddling, but not because paddling “strains” it – it’s probably because I haven’t been folowing my own advice.:wink:

I suspect that more people hurt their backs loading and unloading their boats than paddling them.

I am a life long back patient with a few
disc herniations and a tri level decompressive lamenectomy. There are many things people can say about this. The first and most important is that everyone is different. I will not go to chiropracters, talk about dangerous manipulation. Rotation is bad news for the spine, and as such I gave up golf. The rotation associated with kayaking is far less in terms of degrees, but more importantly it is accompanied by significant abdominal isolation that is applied in a slower, more powerful, and controlled way. Golf is an explosive and excessive rotation with minimal resistance. Kayaking is a smooth, restricted, lateral crunch. You will build up your abdominal muscles , which any back patient knows is good for the back. Limit your rotation until you build up your abdominal muscles. Do not attempt back deck rolls, or other severe bends until you are sure that you are handling this ok. Stretch out before ,during, and after paddling. Listen to your body. You will be sore, but hopefully it will be of shorter and shorter duration. Do you know what your condition actually is? You might want to see a neurosurgeon/spinal DR. to get a more exact understanding. Does your Chiropracter kayak? If he is avid you might want to take more stock in his advice. I gave up Golf, Hockey, Windsurfing, and Alpine Snowboarding and replaced them with Kayaking. Boy am I glad I did. That said, we are all one mistake away from disaster when we have a bad back. The biggest mistake I made was done loading the kayak one day. I always get help or use my cart to move the boat. Something as simple as reaching for a bow loop to tie down the boat can slip a disc. Use your head, proceed slowly, and build your confidence. Good Luck! Really, Good Luck!

It’s all in the technique
My brother, an avid surfer in California has back issues but I figured with his surfing experience kayaking would be a natural. He could barely keep the kayak (a good touring kayak)at 2.5 mph while I cruise at 4 to 4.5 mph.

His back hurt so he used all arms and that exasperated his back issues on an 8-mile camping trip. We almost didn’t make it back.

Anyway, he recently bought a kayak and is now slowly getting into it and trying different techniques and doing well.

When I first started I didn’t have good paddling technique so I went on a 160-mile kayak/camping trip. By the end of that trip I developed my own technique thru trial and error (found strokes that didn’t hurt) and it turns out I do it the way it is recommended - with your core.

Point is that if you use the correct technique - using your core, it should not hurt your back but you may have to do some experimenting to tweak it to your needs. Hope this helps and encourages you to continue kayaking.

I have a stack of Sea Kayaking back issues

Tight Hams + sitting on the floor = OUCH
My hams are chronicaly tight and yes sitting in a kayak can be rough on my back. If you are reasonably flexible you may not have that problem.

For me part of the solution is to kneel in canoes and whitewater C1s. If your knees are good and kayaking becomes painful keep that option in mind.

The other part of my solution is to try and become more flexible. I have a very lonely kayak I need to spend more time with. So far it’s a struggle with limited sucsess.

Good Luck

chiropractors vary
Mine provides great results. But then, he focuses on helping my back and not curing some damn cold or other nonsense. And he told me kayaking was actually good for my back if I keep in mind proper posture and technique (he’s a ww guy).


too young to feel this damn old
im 22 and earlier this summer i took a trip that left me paddling a cheap plastic reco boat all day and the begginers paddled the faster boats (trip planner overestimated the amount of miles some beginners could do on flatwater.

was a hard paddle all day, and we made good pace for slow/low water levels.

The boat had a hard plastic moloded seat.

I had to paddle very hard all day to maintin pace, and ended up with a pinched sciatic nerve due to a compressed disc. never had back probs before, but that day I did.

took me 6months of rehabbing and finally doesnt hurt anymore.

There seems to be a higher incidence
of back issues…but, compared to what? I have been lucky with my back and shoulders… No lasting back issues (I’m 65, rowing 60-67 and paddling 73 to present) and just got my first rotator cuff injury, pulling a tree down, not paddling.

I have had occasional back spasms, but only one was bad enough to require professional help.

I’ve seen international ww competitors brought low by back problems requiring laminectomy, but others who have never had a serious problem.

Listen to your body, and try not to tell injured paddlers what they “should” have done. Even professionals give bad advice on that.

My 2cents
I have a lower back disk hernia, and a very tight hamstring problem.

For me:

Regardless of the activity, the key is to keep the core muscles strong and be mindful of lifting / bending.

Only problem I have had with the back and kayaking so far was after a long drive to the launch point, I was in a rush to get the kayaks down and the gear ready. No problem getting the boats down but then I leaned over and into the cockpit to do a visual adjustment of my wife foot pads and out went the back. Not fun at all trying to get the boats back up either since at 4”10 she can’t help with that.

Since, for me, hamstring and back go hand in hand, I made sure to get my sea kayak(Solstice Titian LV) with enough height and cockpit opening so I could move my legs around when the opportunity permitted. It resulted in having a kayak a little bit larger then I wanted and one very susceptible to the wind but I have no problem being in it for hours and miles at a time.

Helps mine
I concentrate on good technique, and as a result, by the fall every year my back and ab muscles are crazy strong. I was having the beginnings of back issues before I started kayaking a lot, but have not had any issues in the years since.

I do other stuff which isn’t good for my back, like play racquetball competitively, ride a road bicycle 4+ X/week, do a bunch of those crazy g-style rolls, and drive a desk for a living. And at 45, my back is fine in a family of bad backs.

All I can say is that it works for me.

me also
It’s a fun way to keep my core strong. And when my core isn’t strong, I feel the back pain. I’ve herniated two disks but through PT and strengthening that core I’ve avoided a relapse and made one less likely.

Helps mine too
As many have already said, strengthening the core muscles helps one’s back and reduces lower back problems. Rotation is the key. Stretching the hams is another key point.

And as String said, loading and unloading is where you are most at risk.


35# canoe, Hullavator for my 55# touring yak.

Great Quote
"I suspect that more people hurt their backs loading and unloading their boats than paddling them."

This is so true. Spend a little more for a lighter kayak (I bought used). I had an 18 foot plastic kayak that I dreaded using so 1)I didn’t go kayaking as much as I wanted to since I usually go solo and 2)I would hurt my back a little almost every time I loaded it by myself.

I’ve had some back pain for the last five years. This year it became so bad that I had to miss work. This year was also the year I’ve done the most paddling at any time of my life. I have to believe they are related.

Part of my problem was probably lifting my boat from the roof of my car. The other part is spending alot of time working on rolling. I’ll keep doing both next season, but will consider this a wakeup call to focus more on technique.

Working with a chiropractor has given more relief to the problem than any medical doctor has done. For five years, every MD I saw would merely tell me to take massive amounts of ibuprofen until the problem went away. It never did. The chiropractor is working to stretch and strengthen the injured area.

Helped my back problems
I have had surgery at C5-C6 and L5-S1 for herniations with nerve compressions. Kayaking definitely helps my back.

A couple of caveats - If your hamstrings are tight, stretch 'em, and look for a boat with a comfy seat and enough deck height that your hammies are not too stretched.

Yoga is good, but the best way I have found to stretch is Active Isolated Stretching - the Aaron Mattes Method. You can check it out at stretchingusa.com and see if there is a trained person in your area or try it yourself with the books. That will also do your back a lot of good.

backband–importance of good support
I’ve not had problems, until my backband went a little slack last week. I normally have it firm, so it provides strong support, and makes me sit straight up, ramrod straight in the boat. But the band went loose, and i felt some twinge in my lower back while paddling, than some pain and stiffness when I got off the water, which lasted about three days. I was walking around hunched over at the waist for those days. I did some floor stretchings to relax the cramped muscles, and that helped.

So, I think proper lower back support is important here to prevent problems. For me, that’s a tight band, securely fixed at 90 degrees to the hull, that presses on my lower back.