Rowing and back pain – is it normal?

By January 14, 2016Blog
Rachael Row 1

Lake Wendouree is soon to be filled with rowing boats with the arrival of the 2015/16 rowing regatta season. The sight of hundreds of crews on selection camps, training and racing is certainly a sight to behold for all those sightseeing around Lake Wendouree.

All who are involved in rowing will know that the performance on race day may look impressive, yet it is the result of hours and hours of gruelling training, sleep deprivation, blisters and sunburn. If you didn’t think that was bad enough, the fact that rowing is a power-endurance sport means injuries are very common due to the high intensity of training that is required.

Particularly pertinent to this time of year are the selection camps, where rowers will be subjected to up to 12 races per day in order to select crews. Particularly in school-aged rowers, this is a huge increase in their training load after the summer holidays, and therefore often results in injuries. Common injuries following an intense selection camp include low back pain, rib pain, wrist pain and knee pain.

Low back pain is one of the most common complaints of rowers, and is usually caused by excess pressure being placed on the discs between vertebrae in the spine. During the rowing stroke, the force transmitted through the spine can reach up to 6 times the athlete’s body weight. For a 70kg rower, that’s 420kg of compressive force through the spine! With so much force through the spine, it means it is essential that contributing factors such as core strength and endurance, as well as technique are addressed to distribute this force correctly and without pain.

If low back pain persists for longer than 48 hours, it is essential that a rower consults a physiotherapist and/or their doctor to determine the best course of management. This may mean a period of rest from rowing, altered training programs, and/or the use of certain medications. In more severe cases, scans such as X-Rays or MRIs may be needed to determine the cause of pain. Your physiotherapist will be able to advise you on the best management of your back pain, and may give you some exercises to alleviate your pain and strengthen your core muscles. It is also essential to consult with your coach to determine whether your technique could be contributing to your back pain.

For allRachael Maher those involved in rowing this season, train hard, and I’ll see you around the Lake over this coming season.

Rachael is a physiotherapist at Lake Health Group, and a Rowing Australia Bronze Provider. She is also a senior coach at Ballarat Clarendon College.

Main Photo courtesy of The Courier Ballarat