Lower Back Pain in Rowing

It’s coming up to that time of year, rowing camp for the girls BSRA season. As a previous rower myself, it is definitely a mixed bag of emotions when looking back. Some great memories of long days with friends, as well as distinct memories of extreme body fatigue, hand blisters and lower back pain.

Many rowers continue to believe that their lower back pain is a normal part of their sport, but its important to know that its not! However, an average of 61% of adult rowers will have experienced an episode of lower back pain over a 12 month period, and it is the most frequently reported site of pain as a result of rowing. The biggest risks of developing rowing related lower back pain are:

– A previous history of lower back pain
– Rapid increases in training or competition demands (Hello rowing camp!) – Ergometer training (particularly sessions lasting more than 30 minutes)

If you are experiencing lower back pain with rowing, booking in with a physiotherapist who has an understanding of rowing is imperative. This includes a thorough understanding of rowing biomechanics and technique, boat set-up and gearing, appreciation of training demands and regattas, as well as rowing specific strength and mobility.

When looking at technique, there are a few points within the rowing stroke that are key to assess with lower back pain. One of those points specifically, is the pelvic position at the catch. Recent research has suggested that rowers with lower back pain will have more posterior pelvic rotation at the catch. This position would predispose the rower to sit in more lumbar flexion due to the posterior pelvic position. (See figure 2)

The process of addressing this issue will vary between each rower, but generally should include assessment and treatment of;

  • –  Hip flexibility: Rowers need to be able to comfortably compress the hips into full flexion to achieve a good position at the catch
  • –  Pelvic control at the catch: maintaining an anterior pelvic tilt
  • –  Trunk muscle endurance through both flexors and particularly extensors
  • –  Maintenance of good cardiovascular fitness to ensure that technique is not lost with fatigue
  • –  Assessment of boat set-up and gearing: including footplate height, as a higher footplate helps to maintain upright posture at the catch

    Early recognition of back pain by rowers, coaches, parents and medical staff is important. Delayed recognition of the problem seems to influence both the severity and the outcome of the injury. Communication between all parties involved from the outset should ensure confidence in the rehabilitation process, a smooth transition back into the boat, and minimise the risk of injury recurrence.

If you are experiencing rowing-related lower back or other rowing related niggles, please don’t hesitate to book in for a consultation!

References:

Wilson, F., Thornton, J. S., Wilkie, K., Hartvigsen, J., Vinther, A., Ackerman, K. E., … & Ardern, C. L. (2021). 2021 consensus statement for preventing and managing low back pain in elite and subelite adult rowers. British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Nugent, F. J., Vinther, A., McGregor, A., Thornton, J. S., Wilkie, K., & Wilson, F. (2021). The relationship between rowing-related low back pain and rowing biomechanics: a systematic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 55(11), 616-630.

Wilson, F., Ng, L., O’Sullivan, K., Caneiro, J. P., O’Sullivan, P. P., Horgan,
A., … & Timonen, V. (2021). ‘You’re the best liar in the world’: a grounded theory study of rowing athletes’ experience of low back pain. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 55(6), 327-335.

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