Kayak Lower Back Pain: Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

Kayak Lower Back Pain

One of the first things I noticed when I started kayaking was that I had a lot of lower back pain the day after a long paddling trip. What I found out was that when first learning to paddle a kayak, lower back pain is a common issue. In fact, there’s even an insider term for it: “Yak Back.”

So I set out to learn how to prevent and treat these annoying aches.

In this article, we’ll discuss what causes lower back pain while kayaking, how to prevent it before you go paddling, and some techniques you can use to relieve discomfort during your time outdoors.

Not a Doctor Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. More importantly, I am not your doctor. This article is not medical advice. If you desire medical advice, consult a competent, licensed doctor in your area.

Causes of Lower Back Pain While Kayaking

Lower back pain while kayaking is a common complaint among kayakers, especially those who are new to the sport. Poor posture, incorrect technique, and lack of stretching can all contribute to back pain while kayaking.

Poor Posture

When paddling a kayak, it’s important to maintain good posture. Slouching or hunching over can cause strain on your lower back muscles and lead to discomfort or even injury. To avoid this issue, make sure you sit up straight with your shoulders pulled back and chin slightly tucked in for optimal alignment. Additionally, keep your arms close to your body as you paddle so that you don’t overextend yourself which could also lead to lower back pain.

Incorrect Technique

If you’re not using the correct technique while paddling it could cause unnecessary stress on your lower back muscles. This can lead to discomfort or even injury.

Make sure that when you paddle each stroke is smooth and fluid rather than jerky movements. This will help reduce tension on your spine. Additionally, learn to paddle from your core muscles, by twisting at the waist instead o pulling so hard with your shoulders.

Lack of Stretching

Proper body mechanics and posture are essential to avoiding lower back pain while kayaking, but you can also do some preventative maintenance before you go kayaking. Stretching arm, back and leg muscles before kayaking can reduce the potential for lower back pain while kayaking.

Prevention Tips for Kayak Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain is a common complaint among kayakers, but it doesn’t have to be. Taking the right steps before and during your paddling session can help prevent lower back pain from occurring in the first place.

Here are 9 tips to help you avoid lower back pain while kayaking:

  1. Wear a Properly-fitted Personal Floatation Device (PFD): Wearing a PFD while kayaking is not only essential for safety, but it helps keep you comfortable and helps keep your body in the correct position. This in turn prevents you from over-stretching or straining your back muscles. Make sure to choose a kayaking life vest that fits properly so that it won’t interfere with your paddling technique.
  2. Stretch Before You Go: Stretching before getting into the water can help prevent back pain by loosening up tight muscles, improving blood flow to muscles, and increasing flexibility. Try doing some basic stretches like shoulder rolls, neck rotations, torso twists, hip circles, knee bends and leg lifts before you start paddling.
  3. Use Proper Posture: Sitting upright in the kayak will help reduce strain on your lower back and ensure proper balance throughout each stroke of the paddle. It’s important to avoid leaning too far forward or backward when paddling. Keep your shoulders relaxed but not hunched forward. Adjust your kayak’s foot pegs if available, so you can maintain an even weight distribution between legs while seated. This will help evenly distribute pressure across both hips and glute muscles. Remember to take frequent breaks during long trips to stretch out any tension build-up in muscles or joints caused by prolonged sitting.
  4. Choose The Right Kayak For Your Body Type: Different types of kayaks are designed for different body sizes and shapes. Make sure you select the right kayak for your height, weight, arm length. This will help minimize strain on your back when paddling for extended periods of time. Consider investing in an adjustable seatback which allows you to customize it to fit your needs. This is especially helpful if you’re sharing a boat with someone else who has different size and shape requirements than you do.
  5. Use A Paddle With An Ergonomic Grip: Many modern day kayak paddles come equipped with ergonomically designed grips which provide extra support for wrists & forearms – this helps reduce fatigue & discomfort caused by gripping tightly onto traditional straight shafts over long distances or periods of time. Look for lightweight models made from carbon fiber materials which also offer superior strength without adding unnecessary bulkiness.
  6. Warm-Up Exercises: Before you get on the water, it’s important to warm up your muscles with some light stretching exercises. Focus on stretching out your core muscles, including those in your abdomen, obliques, and lower back. This will help loosen them up and prepare them for more strenuous activity while kayaking.
  7. Correct Paddling Technique: Proper technique is key when it comes to avoiding lower back pain while kayaking. Make sure that you’re using correct form by keeping your arms close to your body and maintaining an upright posture as much as possible throughout each stroke. Additionally, try not to twist or bend too far forward or backward during each stroke; this can put extra strain on the lower back muscles over time leading to discomfort or injury.
  8. Supportive Seat Cushion: Sitting for long periods of time without proper support can cause tension in the lower back area which could lead to pain later on down the line. Investing in a supportive seat and/or seat cushion, designed specifically for kayaking, can provide additional comfort and support while out on the water. A great kayak seat will prevent you from straining yourself unnecessarily over time due to poor seat posture.
  9. Nutrition and Hydration: It’s also important not to forget about hydration and nutrition when trying to avoid lower back pain from kayaking. Staying properly hydrated helps keep all of our muscles working optimally, which means less strain being placed upon them throughout any physical activity like paddling. Similarly, eating healthy snacks such as fruits or nuts prior to, during, or after a paddle session provides you with essential nutrients needed for energy production – thus helping you perform better overall and hopefully avoid any unnecessary aches.

By practicing proper form and engaging in pre-activity stretches, you can help prevent lower back pain while kayaking.

Relieving Lower Back Pain from Kayaking

Kayaking is a great way to get out and enjoy the outdoors, but it can also be hard on your body. Lower back pain is one of the most common complaints among kayakers. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to help relieve this discomfort and keep it from coming back.

Strengthen Your Core Muscles

If you experience lower back pain while kayaking, it might be time to strengthen your core muscles. Kayaking does help build and mainstain muscle, so a great way to help prepare yourself for long days paddling is to start exercising and building core muscle strength before you go kayaking.

Get Some Rest

To help alleviate kayaking-related pain in your back, resting is usually recommended first before trying any other remedies. Resting helps reduce inflammation associated with muscle strains and it will give your body time to heal.

However if resting doesn’t provide relief then physical therapy may be necessary to treat more serious injuries related to overuse or misuse of certain muscle groups used during paddling activities (i.e., rotator cuff).

Physical and/or Message Therapy

In addition to physical therapy to rehabilitiate strained muscles, treatments like massage therapy might also prove beneficial. And you can relieve tension built up around sore spots in your back by using ice packs after strenuous activity sessions. The ice helps reduce swelling and inflammation around affected areas.

Anti-inflammatory Medicine

Finally, and only at the direction of your doctor, anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen could also provide temporary relief from kayaking-related back pain symptoms.

Lower back pain can easily be caused by prolonged periods spent sitting down inside a cramped cockpit space without adequate support for lumbar region. If back pain from kayaking worsens or doesn’t improve after trying these methods then it is important to seek medical advice from a doctor.

Learn Proper Kayak Posture

One of the best things you can do to prevent and alleviate back pain from kayaking is to learn how to sit in a kayak properly. Here’s a video to help you:


Treatment Options for Kayak Lower Back Pain

Fortunately, there are several treatment options available that can help relieve discomfort in your back due to kayaking and help improve your performance on the water.

Rest and Ice Therapy

One of the most effective treatments for lower back pain is rest and ice therapy. Taking a break from kayaking can give your body time to heal itself naturally. And applying an ice pack to the affected area while you rest will reduce inflammation and provide relief from pain.

It’s important not to overdo it with either one; too much rest or too much cold could cause more harm than good.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can also be used to treat inflamation and lower back pain caused by kayaking. These medications work by reducing inflammation in the affected area, which helps alleviate discomfort and promote healing.

However, it’s important not to take these medications without consulting your doctor first as they may interact with other drugs you’re taking or have adverse side effects if taken in excess doses.

Physical Therapy Exercises

Physical therapy exercises are designed specifically for lower back pain and can also be helpful in treating pain caused by kayaking. These exercises focus on strengthening core muscles that support the spine, improving flexibility of surrounding muscles, increasing range of motion in joints associated with lower back movements during paddling strokes.

Physical therapy can also help correct postural imbalances which may be contributing factors towards causing this type of injury.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy has been shown to be beneficial for many types of musculoskeletal injuries, including those related to kayaking activities such as lower back pain. Massage therapy can relax tight muscles around joints involved with paddling strokes and promote circulation throughout the body. This helps speed up the recovery process when combined with other treatments such as physical therapy exercises or medication use (if necessary).

When to See a Doctor

As you can see, when it comes to lower back pain, there are several treatment options available that can help reduce the symptoms and provide relief. However, if the pain persists or worsens, it’s important to consult a doctor for further evaluation and advice on how best to manage your condition.

If kayaking back pain persists or worsens, despite home treatments such as rest and over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, it’s time to seek medical attention.

Here are some triggers that should send you to your doctor immediately:

Signs of Nerve Damage

If you experience any numbness in your legs or feet that does not go away after resting, it could be a sign of impending nerve damage and you should consult with your doctor immediately. Other signs include tingling sensations in the affected area, muscle weakness or loss of bladder control.

Infection Symptoms

If you have fever accompanied by chills and/or night sweats along with severe back pain then this could indicate an infection in the spine which requires immediate medical attention. In addition, if there’s redness around the affected area accompanied by swelling and tenderness this may also point toward an infection requiring antibiotics from a doctor’s office visit.

Other Warning Signs

Severe abdominal cramps along with nausea can be warning signs that something more serious than just lower back pain might be going on. So seeing a physician would be recommended in order to rule out any other underlying issues such as appendicitis or kidney stones etc..

Additionally, if you experience difficulty breathing due to chest pains then seeking emergency care would be necessary right away.


Lower back pain can be a common issue for kayakers, but it doesn’t have to keep you from enjoying your time on the water. With some prevention tips and treatment options, you can reduce or even eliminate lower back pain while kayaking.

When engaging in outdoor activities like kayaking, it’s important to pay close attention to how your body feels during and after these activities so that any potential injuries can be quickly identified before they become worse over time. When experiencing persistent lower back pain it is best practice to take some rest at home but if symptoms persist beyond 48 hours then consulting with a physician is highly recommended for further evaluation.


I'm Steve, the research and technology workhorse behind Paddle Camp. I do tons of research on all our family's paddling gear before I buy or recommend anything. I grew up canoeing with my dad and brother. A few years ago I bought paddle boards for my daughters, myself, and my wife. Ever since then, we plan most of our vacations around kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding.

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