kayak with Bad Back

Can You Go Kayaking With a Bad Back? (Detailed Explanation)

In this post, I’m going to tell you everything about kayaking back pain. What causes the back pain problem, how you prevent it and finally how to solve the problem. 

Have you seen some TV commercials of back painkiller using the kayakers as a patient?

Every time when I spending long hours on my kayak, I’ll feel the stress growing at my back and the pain start occurs. While the sport is so relaxing, any kind of pain will rob the enjoyment you may have.

Last summer, I went kayaking with my friend who has herniated discs at L3 and L5.

After a few hours peddle session, he started yelling and had to left earlier with severe sciatica in his lower back. We went to a hospital immediately and the doctor gave him an injection to calm down the pain in the nerves.

This bad memory makes me wonder, can people go kayaking with a bad back?

A: I can’t give you a simple answer, it depends on the individuals’ condition. If you’re suffering a minor pain occasionally after kayaking, you might be fine by adjusting your paddling posture. On the other hand, If you had a medical history in your back, I’ll suggest you contact your physician or doctor for a solid answer. Better to be safe than sorry, right? 

What makes a good posture?

Check out this Youtube video which gives you a brief idea about good posture. 

Set up the kayak

Adjust the back brace so that it is loose yet still supported. Next, adjust the foot supports, or foot pegs, to a position that will allow you to get into the kayak comfortably and still be within reach of your feet once you are inside.

Get into the kayak

While still on land, test-fit the setup. Wearing the same footwear you plan to paddle with, get into the kayak. Make sure that your feet are in front of the foot pegs. 

Adjust the backrest

Adjust the backrest so that it provides your back with enough support. You should not be leaning back in the seat, nor should the seat be forcing your torso forward. The backrest should be positioned so that your lower back and buttocks form a 90-degree angle, with your chest slightly forward. 

Set the foot pegs and leg position

Place the balls of your feet on the foot pegs. Your toes should be pointed outward, and your heels should be angled toward the center of the kayak. Your knees should bend upward and outward, allowing your legs to apply pressure to the thigh braces. 

Practice sitting in the kayak

Once everything has been properly adjusted, take notice of the positions of the backrest and the foot pegs. Rock the kayak side to side and lean forward and back, effectively stretching in the kayak to get comfortable in it.


Is kayaking hard on the back?


What causes the problem

The problem is caused by a combination of two reasons:

  • The traditional kayaking position/non-ergonomic position 
  • Didn’t switch to other positions to release the stress after a few hours of kayaking

When you sit in most of the kayaks, you’ll find yourself not feeling so comfortable because this posture we were not used frequently in our daily life. The kayak manufacturers created the backrest and footrests in order to lock kayakers into a certain posture, and prevent kayaker’s upper body from falling backward or sliding forward.

This position will build up critical pressure on your lower back in both Horizontal and Vertical way.

Although the backrest and footrests provide kayakers with stable posture while paddling they also limit your freedom of movement. When you paddling for a long period. Your legs are constantly pushing against the kayak’s footrests, as well as against your lumbar spine, which is “supported” by the backrest behind it. That’s the pressures come from.

So, every few hours, you should move your body and release the pressure when you on the water.

Kayak Anja by Ted Drake, on Flickr
Kayak Anja” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by Ted Drake


How to prevent the back pain problem?



There is no magic formula to prevent the problem. It’s all fundamental concept basically for every activity. Besides moving your body every few hours while kayaking, you could also stretch before you go.

Everyone knows the importance of stretching, but for some reason, in the kayaking world stretching is not a big deal,  sometimes even ignored completely.

Paddling uses a lot of our muscles to keep everything in balance, so stretching is essential; especially for those who undertaking long distance or long hours of kayaking. You should make time for stretching, it will greatly reduce any kind of soreness.  

You can check out this article for a full explanation: 3-easy-paddling-stretches. Also, you can perform some stretches at home to prevent any back pain issue. Check out this post: TRY THESE PELVIS STRETCHES FOR PADDLERS.

The video below demonstrates 3 easy steps to stretch with your paddle.


Good paddling stroke

A good stroke allows you to paddle faster, more efficiently and with less strain on your body. 

You can also check out this article: Good kayak paddling technique. It has an in-depth explanation.


Kayak Back Pain Solutions

If you feel an unusual pain while kayaking, stop everything immediately and take steps to deal with it, you can probably avoid any severe or permanent damage to your lower back. 

Check out this video from physical therapists Bob Schrupp and Brad Heineck on things you can do to alleviate any back pain.

If the pain doesn’t go away after you stretch out your body. I won’t suggest you any further self-healing movement because you may end up making things even worse.



Chiropractors are doctors who specialize in the spine and other joints. They are trained to treat back problems in natural ways, such as with manual spinal manipulation. Manual manipulation also called a spinal adjustment, is used to unjam or reposition spinal joints that are slightly misaligned, which triggers inflammation and sharp pain.

  • A single spinal adjustment can sometimes significantly relieve your lower back pain, but usually, it takes three to five treatments to really feel much better.
  • Chiropractors also use therapies meant more for muscle strains and ligament sprains, which may be more appropriate for your lower back issue. Electronic muscle stimulation, therapeutic ultrasound, and TENS treatments are examples of such therapies.
  • Tractioning or stretching your spine with an inversion table can also help the lower back pain. Some chiropractors use inversion tables, which allows you to recline your upper body and enlist the help of gravity to decompress your spine.

This article is a chiropractor share his thought about how to avoid the back pain while kayaking: A Chiropractor’s Guide to Kayaking.



If patience, basic home care, and alternative therapies are not really helpful in alleviating your lower back pain, then make an appointment with your doctor. They will examine you to see if your pain is caused by a serious spinal issue: herniated spinal disc, entrapped (pinched) nerve, bone infection (osteomyelitis), osteoporosis, stress fracture, advanced arthritis or cancer. For pain control, your doctor can prescribe stronger NSAIDs or painkillers.

  • X-rays, bone scans, MRI, CT scans and nerve conduction studies are all methods of viewing and diagnosing spinal problems.
  • You may also be sent for a blood test in order to see if you have rheumatoid arthritis or a spinal infection (osteomyelitis or meningitis).
  • You may ultimately be referred to a medical specialist (orthopedist, neurologist, rheumatologist) to better figure out your lower back problem.


Physical therapy referral

If your lower back pain is chronic (bothering you for many months or years) and related to weak muscles, bad posture and/or degenerative conditions (“wear and tear” osteoarthritis), you should consider spinal rehabilitation therapy — you’ll likely need a referral from your doctor. A physiotherapist can teach you specific stretches and strength exercises for your lower lumbar spine, which can relieve pain with time. Physical therapy is usually recommended 3x per week for 4-8 weeks to make a significant impact on chronic lower back issues.

  • For spinal rehabilitation, physiotherapists tend to use a variety of exercise balls, weighted medicine balls, elastic tension bands, electronic muscle stimulation and/or therapeutic ultrasound devices.
  • Effective strengthening exercises that you can do on your own for your lower back muscles include swimming, rowing, certain yoga positions, and back extensions.


Steroid injection

If stronger prescription drugs and/or back rehabilitation don’t prove effective, then an injection of corticosteroid medicine into the joints, muscles, tendons or ligaments of your low can quickly reduce inflammation and pain, and allow better movement. Corticosteroids are based on natural human hormones, which have strong and quick-acting anti-inflammatory properties. The most common ones used by doctors are called prednisolone, dexamethasone, and triamcinolone. Your family doctor will likely refer you to a back specialist (orthopedist) for the injection if she thinks it will help.

  • Potential side effects of getting steroid injections include local infection, excessive bleeding, tendon weakening, muscle atrophy, nerve irritation/damage, and reduced immune system function.
  • Pain relief from steroid injections can last anywhere from a few weeks to many months. Doctors don’t like to give more than two injections per year.
  • If corticosteroid injections don’t give much relief for your lower back pain, then an operation (there are many different surgical procedures) should be explored with your doctor as a last resort.

Source: wikihow.com


Kayak seat for back support

Getting right back hold up properly in every situation is possible as long as you invest yourself a good kayak seat.

Back support is something as important as their daily needs. Lack of proper back support may lead to back pain, often ending up with serious backbone issues. A good kayak seat features great back support to enable anglers to rest upon for as long as they want.

You could check out my another blog post: How to Choose a Kayak Seat? written about my recommendation on Kayak seat for better back support. 

Fancy Kayak by mikecogh, on Flickr
Fancy Kayak” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by mikecogh



I wish you guys have no more pain in your butt.

The final word is “Prevention.” That’s the key to any problem, especially when we are talking about the lower back. I hope you follow the instructions and keep the pain out of your back.

All of the information is based on my experiences and researches. If you find anything wrong or outdated. Please leave your comment below, I will update it as soon as possible.

Thanks for reading. Happy Kayaking.




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