The most common rowing injuries have been found to be those resulting from overuse arising from the repetitive nature of the sport. When a rower experiences pain from an injury and continues to row rather than rest, it may lead to compensatory biomechanics which can aggravate the injury and lead to other problems. Consulting with a physiotherapist before beginning training can help avoid injury as can seeking help as soon as any discomfort from rowing is apparent.
Some common rowing injuries:
Lumbar disc injury
Problems of the lower back are common rowing injuries due to the posture that rowers are forced to assume. One such injury is a disc prolapse sometimes referred to as a “slipped disc”, which can be caused by the excessive force applied to the lumbar spine when pulling the oars backwards whilst being bent forwards. Symptoms are acute low back pain which may radiate down the leg. There may also be numbness and tingling. Pain is relieved by rest and lying down in a supported position (often on the side) rather than sitting. A physiotherapy programme which may consist of deep tissue massage, gentle joint mobilisation and stretching techniques will be helpful in relieving pain and regaining flexibility. It is essential to undergo a strengthening rehabilitation programme under the care of your physiotherapist to build up core muscle strength and reduce the risk of re-injury.
Sacroiliac joint pain
This is another common rowing injury. The sacroiliac joints are located in the lower back, one on either side of the spine. They connect the base of the spine to the pelvis. These joints can become quite stiff with prolonged rowing and may also become inflamed, both of which can lead to pain. Symptoms of sacro-iliac injury can include pain and stiffness in the lower back as well as referred pain to the groin and difficulty bending forwards. Pain is usually one-sided but sometimes both sacro-iliac joints are affected. The presence of Ankylosing spondylitis, a form of degenerative arthritis, may also intensify this condition. Treatment calls for rest, ice and physiotherapy management including soft tissue therapy and core muscle retraining.
Rotator cuff injuries
Constant use of the shoulder joints during rowing can lead to rotator cuff injuries, which may be acute or chronic and manifest themselves in shoulder pain and limited movement, especially lifting the shoulder up, forwards and sideways and reaching the hand up behind the back. Treatment is with RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) followed by physiotherapy management to reduce pain, increase mobility and regain strength around the shoulder region. The few more severe cases that do not respond to physiotherapy may require surgical intervention.
The repetitive forward and backward movements during rowing can cause knee pain and injury. To avoid this, the athlete should observe proper body mechanics – keep toes lined up with knees and ties turned slightly outwards, engaging the core muscles to ensure correct back posture and trying to keep knee movement fluid and relaxed. Warming the knees before rowing and icing them afterwards can also help prevent injury. For good conditioning, a physiotherapy programme that ensures adequate strength and flexibility of the core muscles and lower limb muscles before you begin rowing will place you in good stead.
Rib stress fractures
Female rowers appear to have a higher incidence of rib stress fractures than their male counterparts, possibly due to decreased strength and resistance training. Rib fractures are most commonly associated with long distance rowing. Pain is often felt in the back with the tenderness over the affected rib. Sometimes referred pain can shoot across to the chest and stomach region. An X-ray is needed to diagnose a stress fracture to the rib. The athlete will be sidelined for about eight to ten weeks with a gradual return to rowing. Modifying the technique as well as the craft itself to allow for a shortened lever arm may be helpful. Increasing overall fitness with strength training in combination with physiotherapy management can help the athlete avoid re-injury.
Rowing is a beautiful sport whether for competition or recreation; however inadequate fitness level and skill or overuse can lead to injury. If you have become injured while rowing, you should see us for an assessment and treatment.