Avoiding the Agony of Back Pain When Enjoying your Kayak

If you’ve been kayaking for very long, it’s likely you’ve experienced some pain in your lower back – while the sport is great for reaching remote places on the water, any pain you experience will rob you of any enjoyment you may have on the water. This pain is a signal from your body that something is wrong. If you stop immediately and take steps to address it, you can avoid any severe or permanent damage to your lower back.

Unfortunately, many kayakers and fishermen do not heed this warning from their body and press on. In so doing, they end up creating an even bigger problem that may keep them away from kayaks for an extended period of time.
The dreaded “Yak back” is a common complaint among kayakers. It doesn’t discriminate on age or gender – a spry 25-year old is just as susceptible to “Yak back” as an older adult. It also affects men and women equally.
What is this dreaded “Yak back” and what can kayakers do to address it? Continue reading for a brief background on how you develop lower back pain when using kayaks and things you can do to prevent or alleviate this pain.


Despite advances in seating and back support, kayaks for sale online or in-store can still lead to a lot of back pain if they’re not used properly

The original kayaks used by natives in the Arctic did not have seats at all. The user would simply sit on the floor in an L-shape (back straight with legs straight out). There were no fancy ergonomic back rests. In modern times though, staying in the L-shape sitting position was very difficult for most paddlers since our muscles are not used to it.
Despite continual advancement in seats and back support, all of the bending and twisting places additional pressure on lumbar vertebrae, or the lower part of your spine between your hips and your ribs. Besides the bending and twisting, modern kayaks have foot rests that you put weight on while paddling. Putting weight on these foot rests results in increased pressure on the lumbar, and therefore an increased risk of lower back pain.


Four things common to kayaking that can lead to “Yak back” include:

1. Extended periods of sitting can put more pressure on your back than lifting according to physical therapists. Sitting in a flexed or slouched position only compounds problems caused by sitting for too long.

2. Rotating and bending of the spine repetitively due to poor paddling technique places tremendous pressure on the discs in the lumbar.

3. Improperly lifting the kayak off the ground or off your vehicle places tremendous pressure on back muscles. This problem though is common for any heavy item.

4. Being stationary and unable to change positions to relieve stress on critical pressure points is also a major contributing factor to “Yak back.”


Although today’s kayaks for sale include seats to help you maintain proper posture, many kayakers still slouch. Over time, this can cause you to have some pretty extreme back pain.

Rather than investing in the most expensive seats and back rests, take a few of the following steps to minimize back pain from kayaking

Fortunately, back pain isn’t something you have to endure in order for you to enjoy kayaking. Like many other physical activities though, you need to take precautionary steps to avoid the agony that comes with poor posture and improper twisting and turning.
According to physical therapists, just 15 to 20 minutes of sitting is all that’s needed for ligaments in your lower back to stiffen up and possibly cause pain.
Before you even get in the water though, you should stretch and warm up those lower back muscles. This is especially if you’re going out first thing in the morning since lumbar discs are naturally stiffer in the first one to two hours of the day.
When you’re out on the water, taking the following 3 steps can help you loosen up lower back muscles and prevent the stiffness that causes pain.

1. While sitting, rock your pelvis back and forth to stretch the lower back.

2. Place your hands on the side of your seating area, push down and straighten your arms to lift your buttocks off the seat. While in this position, rock your pelvis back and forth a few times to stretch the lumbar and other lower back muscles even more.

3. Get out, walk around and stretch every hour or so if possible.

Besides sitting improperly or for too long, improper paddling technique can also lead to lower back pain. Many kayakers will bend and rotate at the same time, which according to physical therapists in the video below dramatically increases your risk of back pain.
The right paddling technique means using your latissimus dorsi muscles, legs and trunk rotation. Keep your spine upright and contract your abdominal muscles and place your paddle in the water as close to the kayak as possible. When pulling the paddle, use your hips and not your waist to complete the movement and propel your boat forward. This ensures your spine stays straight and spinal rotation is minimized.
If you’ve done the motion properly, you will be in the right position to put your paddle in the right spot on the other side.
When lifting your kayak, simply remember what you should know from lifting any heavy object – instead of bending your back, bend your knees and keep your back straight.
Check out this video from physical therapists Bob Schrupp and Brad Heineck on things you can do to alleviate any back pain following a day of canoeing or kayaking.


This of course is just a brief overview of the lower back issues common to kayaking. If you’re looking at kayaks and accessories for sale online, remember that proper stretching, sitting, paddling and lifting will do way more to prevent (…or alleviate) back pain than the fanciest seats on the market.
Eddy-Gear is a premier manufacturer of light-weight, versatile and durable kayaks. Although we can’t claim our kayaks will not cause back pain, we can say that proper stretching and spinal alignment will help prevent the dreaded “Yak back.” Click here to learn more about our kayaks for sale online at Eddy-Gear.com.
Don’t be like so many others and abandon kayaking because of terrible pain in the lower back – keep your spine straight, rotate with your hips and stretch before, during and after your time out on the water.

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