Low Back Pain and Rowing 

Low back pain is a common problem in rowing, and it can be easily improved with the right management. 

What is the cause? 

Low back pain in rowing is caused by overload to the structures in the back, it is most commonly from an increase in training load or intensity, which is very common after the school moratorium. The repetitive stress from lack of recovery or from increasing training too quickly before the body is able to adapt causes stress and pain in the low back. 

It can also be caused by extra stress on the low back if you lack mobility in the hips or hamstrings, this can cause you to row with poor posture and a curved low back. 

Lack of strength or endurance can cause low back pain as the muscles around the core and hips fatigue it can lead to poor posture and overload the back. 

What are the risk factors?

The list below outlines some of the other factors that contribute to low back pain in rowing; 

  • Increased volume of rowing, ergo gym training  
  • Changes in gearing of the oars, boat set up or rowing in poor weather 
  • Poor core strength  
  • Lack of mobility in the hip 
  • Lack of mobility in the hamstring 
  • Poor technique 

How can it be helped?

Your low back pain can easily be improved, but initially finding out the cause is important so it can be addressed and you can get back to normal training as quickly as possible. 

Posture in the boat, warming up, flexibility and strength are all important factors when looking at how to improve your low back pain and ensure that is does not come back. 

Seeing a physiotherapist is important to identify what the problem is, and you can discuss how it can be treated. Your physio may make modifications to your training program to help to improve your pain. 

You may be given a specific stretching or strength program to work on the cause or other contributing factors. 

Can we prevent it?

Prevention is important as study’s on US collegiate rowers show that if you can compete in rowing without low back pain, you have a better prognosis than the general population.  

Study’s have also found that once you have had low back pain in rowing, you are more likely to develop it again during life. 

Below are some ways you can prevent low back pain: 

  • Increase your training load gradually, week by week and, try to keep it as consistent as possible through the season 
  • Perform a dynamic warm-up before water sessions, ergos and gym 
  • Good posture in the boat or ergo with a flat low back 
  • Stretching after training especially hamstrings, hip flexors and glute muscles 
  • Gym program containing glute and core exercises 
  • Rowing specific patterning exercises 

If you are experiencing low back pain 
during or after rowing or would like a screening or prevention program specific to you, it is recommended that you see your physio as soon as possible so it can be managed correctly to get you back to training as soon as possible.  


About the Author

Annabel Gibson is a Physiotherapist at Physiotas in Launceston.

Originally from Launceston, Annabel spent time completing her Physiotherapy degree in South Australia. Annabel has a special interest in sports injuries and has worked with many leading sports physiotherapists throughout South Australia. Having rowed at an elite level, Annabel now works with athletes in the lead up to their competitions.

Annabel is transitioning into the triathlon and running scene with the hope of completing Half Ironman events!