Lower Back Pain in rowers is very common yet it can easily be prevented, if you know how!
Preventing lower back injuries in rowing is all about holding your spine in a 'good, strong,' neural position through out your stroke. You are meant to have curves through out your spine. These distribute load effectively through out the joints of your spine, which helps avoid injury and prevents excessive wear and tear. You are meant to have a curve through your lower back. When you sacrifice this curve to get extra length throughout your stroke or because you are tired and start slump into poor posture when rowing, you are potentially causing yourself injury. Common Causes of Lower Back Pain Related To Rowing that Sports Massage Can Help:
Musclular Pain - This is on of the most common reasons for lower back pain in rowers. However if left unaddressed it can lead to injury. Tightness in your QLs and Lumbar erectors (Muscles around your lower back area) as well as glut tightness can lead to lower back stiffness and pain.
One muscle group that is often forgotten is your Iliopsoas (a hip flexor) that attaches from your lumbar vertebrae, to your pelvis and into your hip. It is a hip flexor as well as helping you to extend your body at the finish of your stroke, so it gets a serious work out. If it gets too tight is can impact your lower back and the nervous structures that exist from the area. This can lead to pain, tightness and injury.
The muscle group that is MOST commonly not addressed by rowers, yet can still have a significant impact on your lower back are your Quads. Every time you take a stoke you use them. If you sit behind a desk for a living they are constantly shortened. Ontop of this you sit down when you row which further exacerbates the problem. Short and/or tight quads can impact on how your pelvis moves, which can contribute to lower back pain. Help avoid lower back pain by loosening these muscles off with stretching and self massage techniques specifically for rowing. Sports Massage can also be very effective in treating these muscle groups They can also identify areas that you need to focus on with triggering and stretching. They can help to make your self care more targeted allowing you to save you time and improve rowing performance.
Core Stability - Yes! We know we harp on about core stability. However have you ever stopped to think about WHY it is so important for rowing? Core stability is the ability of the muscles of your torso and pelvis to hold your spine in a 'good, strong'' position, especially through movement. This is particularly important when you a performing the rowing stroke because of the amount of force you are applying through the water, and hence through your lower back.
Without the ability to hold your spine in a strong position throughout the stroke you run the risk of injuries such as disc protrusions, muscle pain, nerve root injuries, facet joint injuries and stress fractures. Preventing yourself from falling into poor posture or sacrificing the curve in your lower back due to muscle weakness is an easy way to help prevent injury and improve performance without more training. To identify whether or not core stability may be something you need to work on book in for a session with your remedial massage therapist, exercise physiologist or physio.
Hamstring Length and Hip Flexion - Tightness in your hamstrings can prevent you from being able to rock over effectively. It can also be one of the causes of opening up your body too early through the drive phase of your stroke. This can place excessive load through your lower back, leading to muscle tightness and/or injury. It will also decrease your ability to apply force throughout the finish of your stroke because you have opened up your body too early throughout the stroke. Deep tissue massage, dry needling and trigger point therapy can be effective in helping to loosen through your hamstrings.
Poor Thoracic Mobility - Your thoracic spine sits above your lower back and makes up your chest. Your spine has a certain range of movement that it is meant to achieve. Each one of vertebrae needs to move as part of a fluid chain in order to distribute load evenly through out the spine, particularly through movement. When ever a section or an area of your spine becomes stiff, other areas will 'take up the slack' leading excessive load bring distributed to these areas. This can lead to pain, muscle tightness and/or injury. To extend past the vertical at the finish of your stroke your need a certain amount of core stability as well as thoracic and lumbar extension.
If your thoracic spine doesn't move your lower back will take more of the load potentially leading to lower back pain. Improving thoracic mobility involves a combination of foam rolling as well as loosening muscles like your intercostals, diaphragm, lats and erectors. it also involves freeing up the joints themselves. These are all techniques that a sports massage therapist is very adept in performing.
Poor Technique - To prevent injury the rowing stroke must be performed in a certain sequence - Legs first with your shoulders held over your hips followed by opening up your body and bringing in your arms. Just like when you do a dead lift of perform a squat, if you do not perform these exercises in this sequence you run the risk of injury. At the catch the boat is moving the slowest which is why it is important for you to be in a 'strong position.' You want to use your largest muscles first to prevent the smaller ones being injured. As the boat picks up speed through the middle of your stroke you start to bring in small and small muscles until your take the oars out of the water with your arms, when the boat is moving the fasters. Anytime you start from this sequence you run the risk of injuring yourself or placing excessive load on muscles that aren't built to do that job.
Underlying Conditions - Lower back tightness is common with rowing because you use these muscles to perform the rowing action. That is why it is important maintain a good self-care regime and get regular treatment from health professionals specific to your sport. The problem arises when this tightness lingers after the rowing session or it turns into pain. Disc Injuries, Nerve related pain, facet joint problems and or degenerative joint conditions are common in rowers dependent on your age and level of intensity of rowing. For more information see our page Lower Back Pain.
We hope you can see why it is important for a sports massage therapist to have an understanding of your sport and common conditions that may arise with rowing. To book in for a sports massage with one of our therapists click the link below.