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Kayaking With No Back Pain

Nicola Burridge
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Kayaking can be a relaxing way to spend time in the great outdoors. But there’s nothing worse than a sore back to put a stop to your adventures. 

It’s time to go kayaking with back support. Discover essential tips and techniques to ensure a pain-free paddling experience with ergonomic gear that can ease discomfort and let you enjoy the water for longer. 

Kayaker sitting in a Sit-On-Top kayakPin

What Causes Back Pain For Kayakers?

Sitting in the same position for a long time with limited space to move your legs can cause stiffness and pain in your legs, butt, and back. If you already have a bad lower back, kayaking can often make the pain worse. 

This is because sitting causes back pain in many circumstances, due to the pressure it puts on your spine. Generally, all of your body weight is supported by your lower back while sitting and when there is nothing to offer shock absorption or bolster your spine, this can cause pain. 

Typically, the most uncomfortable position to sit in while kayaking is the common L-type position. This is where your body is in the shape of an “L” with your legs straight out in front of you and your butt is flat on the deck. This is often how you’d paddle many traditional sit-on-top and sit-inside kayaks where there is no elevation in the seating area.

Another reason that can cause pain in the lower back is overexerting yourself while paddling. This can be due to using an aggressive paddle stroke over a long period of time or from battling against strong currents or winds. 

However, you don’t need to give up kayaking just because you have a bad back. Many kayaks offer decent cushioning and ergonomic engineering to minimize pain and make paddling much more comfortable.

9 Ways To Stop Back Pain From Kayaking

1: Use A Kayak Seat With Lumbar Support

One of the best ways to reduce back pain while kayaking is to use a kayak seat that has built-in lumbar support.

Lumbar support helps to support your spine, minimizing the pressure on your lower back and preventing back pain. It allows your spine to curve in a more natural position. This can help you sit more comfortably with the correct posture, meaning you’re less likely to slouch forward.  

Check out some of these great kayak seats with back support to minimize pain.

Added cushioning around the backrest and under the seat bottom can help to provide a softer surface and reduce the build-up of pressure on a particular area. Because of the added weight distribution and balance of the padding, it can prevent stress on your coccyx and hips, as well as your lower back.

2: Stretch Before Your Kayaking Adventure

Man doing hip and leg stretches.Pin

One of the most important things you can do to prevent back pain from kayaking is to stretch before you head out to the water. I also advise stretching after your paddling session to prevent sore muscles and tightness the following day.

There are several kayaking stretches you can do to alleviate and prevent back pain from kayaking. These include stretching your back, your hamstrings, and your thighs. Stretching your hamstrings can help when it comes to sitting upright in the kayak with your legs in front of you. If you haven’t stretched your hamstrings, you might find that it’s tricky and often painful sitting flat on the kayak with your legs straight out.

It’s also good practice to keep your hip flexors mobile, for example, by opening up the hips before and after your kayaking session.

3: Exercise Regularly

This may seem like general advice and it often is. However, exercising regularly can improve your physical fitness and keep you flexible. 

Maintaining your flexibility and physical health will mean you’re usually less likely to suffer injuries from other physical activities (and everyday life). 

For example, you wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) run a marathon without any training, otherwise you could end up with muscular injuries. Likewise, you shouldn’t jump in a kayak for a day of paddling without warming up and strengthening your muscles first.

4: Strengthen Your Core Muscles

It’s probably universally known by anyone with lower back pain that strengthening your core can help alleviate some of that pain. 

A strong core means the muscles in your torso are stronger and more adept at supporting your spine. This means there’s usually less pressure on your joints because your body is being supported by your muscles. 

Having a strong core can also improve your posture, which is beneficial for kayaking and comfort. 

5: Improve Your Posture

Having a good kayaking posture means sitting upright in your kayak rather than in a reclined position. To paddle correctly and efficiently, you will generally need to lean forward slightly to allow your torso to rotate with each paddle stroke. This means that your spine should be almost vertical but a little forward, yet still in a straight position. 

In order to keep your spine straight, it means you shouldn’t be leaning forward with your arms and shoulders. Your shoulders should remain back to keep your spine in the correct position for paddling. 

Find out more about how to paddle a kayak.

6: Use An Adjustable Seat 

Adjustable kayak seats can be much more comfortable than seats that don’t offer any adjustability. Having a seat with a high level of adjustability means you should be able to tailor the position of the seat to suit your paddling position, posture, and comfort. 

Adjustable seats that can slide or be adjusted back and forth can be great for kayak fishing and paddlers with either long or short legs who need the extra adjustment to reach the foot braces comfortably.

A seat that has a high-low adjustment is also useful for kayak anglers, as the higher position can give you a better vantage point for sight fishing. This can also let you sit more comfortably with your knees bent (and make it easier to stand up when it’s time to get out).

One of the most beneficial levels of adjustment for kayak seats when you have a bad back is an adjustable backrest. This lets you customize the level of recline and tension to provide back support.

Some basic kayaks don’t offer any back support and simply have a molded seat. In this case, I recommend adding your own seat to the kayak to improve your comfort level and reduce back pain.

Video: How To Install A Seat On A Sit-On-Top Kayak

7: Make Use Of The Foot Braces

Foot braces can play an important role in how comfortable you feel in your kayak. Placing your feet on the foot pegs can help you sit in a more upright position in your seat, allowing you to maintain a good posture as well as stabilize yourself in the kayak. 

The foot pegs can help you take some of the pressure off your lower back and butt and prevent you from sliding forward in your seat. 

Adjustable foot pegs can be easily positioned in the best spot for your particular leg length and can be better than molded footrests for this reason. 

Molded footrests usually have limited options in terms of foot placement, especially if you have very long or very short legs. However, if your seat is adjustable, this can work well with molded footrests. 

8: Take Plenty Of Breaks

Taking a break every now and again is a good idea to let your muscles rest. Being seated in a kayak can cause your muscles and joints to stiffen and your hip flexors can tighten. 

Tight muscles and stiff joints can cause pain and discomfort and can temporarily restrict your mobility. This is why it’s important that you don’t spend too long sitting in the same position. 

If you’re in a fishing kayak with an elevated seat, you may find you’re able to continue for longer than if you were in a narrow sit-inside kayak, as you’ll generally have more freedom of movement and can bend and extend your legs as necessary.

A good rule of thumb for taking breaks is to stop roughly every hour. 

9: Don’t Overdo It

Over-exerting yourself can lead to strained muscles in your back and other areas of your body. Putting your body under too much pressure could make existing injuries worse. It could also cause new injuries.

If you start to feel pain in your back or anywhere else in your body while you’re kayaking, it’s a good idea to stop for a rest or call it quits for the day. If you overdo it, you may find you’re not able to get back on the water as quickly the next time. 

Most Comfortable Kayaks For A Bad Back

Kayak Fishing Or Not: A Fishing Kayak Can Be Ideal

A fishing kayak can be one of the best types of kayak in terms of comfort, especially if you have a bad lower back and want to spend long hours on the water.

One of the most comfortable sit-inside kayaks is the Old Town Loon. The Old Town Loon series of kayaks features one of the most comfortable seats on the market and is can handle flat and choppy water for versatility. 

The seat is ergonomically designed to offer comfort for long days on the water, particularly for anglers, limiting pain from pressure points. It’s also fully adjustable for back support.

The Old Town Loon kayak’s cockpit is enclosed but is oversized to provide more room when getting in and out of the boat, as well as leg room for comfort. 

Check out the Old Town Loon 120 here.

Wilderness Systems kayaks are also typically very comfortable and offer a lot of back support. The sit-on-top angler Wilderness Systems kayaks, such as the Radar 115, tend to have fully adjustable seats that are elevated off the deck for added visibility and comfort. 

These types of elevated seats can let you sit in a more natural position, reducing pain on pressure points in your sciatic area

Choose A Kayak With Back Support

A kayak with an adjustable seat and good lumbar support can be the best option to limit back pain while kayaking. 

The best sit-on-top kayak in our opinion is the Wilderness Systems Targa 100. This is designed for comfort and stability. There’s a heel rest for your feet while you’re relaxing and adjustable foot pegs to help you maintain your posture. 

The Targa’s adjustable seat is a sling seat to help alleviate pressure and it’s slightly elevated so you can keep your knees bent.   

Back Pain And Kayaking FAQs

Is It Normal to Experience Back Pain After Kayaking?

Many paddlers do experience back pain after spending time kayaking. This can be due to a number of reasons, such as bad posture, an uncomfortable seat with no support, low core strength, external factors related to sitting at work, or even aging. 

Which Stretches Can Soothe Back Pain Post Kayaking?

Sciatic nerve glides can be a useful type of stretch to help alleviate pain in the lower back and sciatic nerve. 

Lie on your back with your feet on the floor and your legs bent. Grab one leg behind the thigh and pull it toward you, keeping your ankle bent and your toes pointed toward you. Gently straighten your leg vertically and repeat a few times before repeating the stretch with the other leg.

Video: Sciatic Nerve Glides

Will Taking Breaks During Kayaking Reduce Back Pain?

Yes, taking short breaks every hour or so will take the pressure off of your lower back and let you stretch your legs, giving your back a rest.

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