Kayaking is surprisingly hard on the body, especially for those who aren’t used to it. Whether it’s back pain from paddling, sitting up straight for extended periods of time, your legs falling asleep, etc, the natural posture involved in kayaking can create obstacles for many involved in the pastime.
There are many reasons why back pain may be present after kayaking, or even when you’re not kayaking, but are typically involved in the sport. The pain can happen anywhere, from the lower back, up the spine, between the shoulders, basically anywhere is susceptible. However, there are also lots of things you can do to try and alleviate this back pain, both on and off the water.
Core Strengthening and Flexibility
Improving your core strength and flexibility in the surrounding area is arguably the most effective way to decrease levels of chronic pain associated with kayaking. The strengthening doesn’t have to involve an intense training regime, but instead can even incorporate gentle exercises that involve activating and isolating the core muscles, such as the abdominals, lower back, and oblique muscles.
One visit to the physiotherapist or a personal trainer should be all you need to set up a few easy exercises you can do at home. You can also check out numerous resources online, just make sure you check the source for reliability.
In terms of stretching, there are many simple stretches you can do at home, for example, the mad cat stretch, which is gentle and actually feels pretty good. You may be surprised at how a little stretching and strengthening can improve your mood throughout the day, not just how you feel on the water! Also, don’t forget about muscles that can affect the back, but may not be thought of as a “back muscle”. For example, the hamstrings (back of thigh) actually cross the hip joint, so they can yank down on your back if they’re tight. Similarly, one of the quadriceps muscles (front of thigh) also crosses the hip joint. In terms of the upper body, stretching your shoulders can also be good for the back.
Back and Shoulder Braces
Back braces can serve as a mechanism to reduce back pain and improve posture, but you shouldn’t rely on them 24/7. For example, there are some really clever back braces for posture, which help train you to draw your shoulder back and sit upright. However, many act by drawing your shoulders back for you, and if you rely on this permanently, your muscles may actually weaken over time since you’re using the brace more than the muscles! That being said, for 20-30 minutes a day, or when you are actively feeling pain that prevents you from practicing good posture, they can be highly valuable. Here is some more information about how you can improve your posture.
Otherwise, many kayakers have now started using shoulder braces while they are actually paddling. These are typically only used if the person has had previous problems with shoulder or back pain, shoulder impingement, or any other problems with their back that involve the shoulders. These braces can provide compression for pain relief, and they are designed so that any tension works to help you maintain proper alignment of the joint, which can be helpful over long periods on the water. Unlike a posture brace, you are still using your muscles normally, but in this case, you just have some added support for the joint itself.
Ice and Heat
Ice can be a very practical method to help with an injury, but typically, it should only be used for acute and recent injuries, or if there is swelling involved. Otherwise, for general muscle and joint pain and stiffness, heat is more ideal. A shower or bath is one great way to loosen up and relieve some pain, and stretching can be a great follow-up to this. Additionally, I always like to have a heat pack around the house that I can quickly throw in the microwave when I need.
Acetaminophen and Iboprofen
Tylenol and Advil are the most popular forms of these two, respectively. Ibuprofen is great for joint and muscle pain, as it’s an anti-inflammatory, while Tylenol is great for pain in general. Both are hard on your stomach and liver, and they also shouldn’t be mixed with alcohol, so it’s best to avoid these whenever possible. Nevertheless, if you need them, it can be worth having some on you while kayaking, or taking some Advil and Tylenol just before you set out for a nice paddle. However, as we mentioned, it’s best to not get into the habit of relying on medications.
These are just a few ways that you can begin to address your own back pain, particularly the pain associated with beginning kayaking. Core strengthening and stretching, as well as working on your posture, are ways that you can reduce pain both during and after kayaking. The other methods are more of an after-the-fact treatment that don’t provide longterm benefits, but may be used when necessary. In any case, we recommend visiting your doctor or physiotherapist if you are experiencing back pain, and they can really help you come up with an effective and practical plan moving forward.