Rowing: Is lower back pain normal?

Rowing with back pain? It’s not normal!
With the start of the West Australian club, IGSSA and All Schools rowing seasons we see an influx of rowers complaining of lower back pain. Many rowers have come to believe that their lower back pain is a normal part of their sport, it’s important to know that it’s not!!!
There are many different causes of lower back pain in rowers and quite often it is a combination of factors. It is vital to identify early on what is contributing to the individual rower’s pain.

The most common (and modifiable) contributing factors:

  • Technical flaws – both in the boat and/or on the ergo. These may also be contributed to by following factors.
  • Poor muscle activation, strength or endurance of muscle groups such as the gluteals, hip flexors and trunk muscles
  • Poor mobility of the ankles, hips, lumbar and thoracic spine
  • Reduced flexibility of the hamstrings and hip flexors
  • Sudden increase in training load
  • Boat set-up and gearing
It is a joint effort between the physiotherapist, coach and athlete to determine and manage the underlying causes of the rower’s pain.
Some self-management and injury prevention strategies for the athlete include:
Joint Mobility:
  • Upper back mobility / thoracic opening exercises
  • Lower back / Lumbar mobility exercises
  • Hip mobility
Muscle flexibility:
  • Hip flexor stretches
  • Hamstring stretches
  • Gluteal stretches
  • Calf stretches
Muscle activation:
  • Glute activation and engagement
  • Pelvic positioning and awareness
  • Hip flexor and trunk muscle endurance
Rowing Australia have developed several resources to help in demonstrating these movements and stretches.
Muscle activation and awareness:
Stretching essentials:

If your back pain is keeping you out of the boat this season, it is important to have a full assessment to establish what factors are driving your pain. Call Ascend Physiotherapy on (08) 9387 2699 or send us an email on