Is kayaking bad for your back? (Tips for a healthy spine)

Is kayaking bad for your back? (Tips for a healthy spine)
Photo by Joyce McCown / Unsplash
Table of contents

Kayaking is a popular outdoor activity enjoyed by millions of people around the world. While it's a great way to experience nature, get some exercise, and have fun, many kayakers are concerned about the impact of this activity on their back health. Kayaking involves sitting for an extended period of time, and this can put pressure on your lower back, causing pain and discomfort. But is kayaking bad for your back? In this blog post, we'll take a closer look at this question and explore the impact of kayaking on your back health.

We'll start by examining the anatomy of the back and understanding how kayaking can affect it. We'll then look at the different types of kayaking and the various factors that can contribute to back pain, such as poor posture, improper technique, and overexertion. We'll also discuss some of the ways to prevent back pain while kayaking, including proper posture, strengthening exercises, and taking breaks.

Furthermore, we'll talk about how to choose the right kayak and equipment to minimize the impact on your back, as well as how to properly adjust your kayak and paddle for optimal comfort and safety. We'll also address some common misconceptions about kayaking and back pain, such as whether inflatable kayaks are more or less likely to cause back pain.

Finally, we'll share some tips on how to recover from back pain caused by kayaking, such as stretching exercises and chiropractic care. By the end of this blog post, you'll have a better understanding of the impact of kayaking on your back health, and you'll be equipped with the knowledge and tools to enjoy this activity safely and comfortably.

Looking for a quick answer?

Kayaking can potentially be bad for your back if proper technique and posture are not maintained. Sitting in a kayak for an extended period of time with a rounded or slouched back can cause strain and discomfort in the lower back. However, with the correct form, including sitting up straight and engaging the core muscles, kayaking can actually be a beneficial activity for the back and overall spinal health. It is important to also take breaks and stretch periodically during long kayaking trips to prevent stiffness and potential injury.

Anatomy of the back and how kayaking affects it

Have you ever thought about what's going on in your back when you're kayaking? Let's take a closer look at the anatomy of your back and how sitting in a kayak can affect it.

Your back is made up of a bunch of bones called vertebrae that are stacked on top of each other to form the spinal column. It's kind of like a tower of blocks, but with bones instead of blocks. These bones protect your spinal cord, which is like the superhighway for your nervous system.

Picutre of a model spine and vertebrae
Example of a spine and the vertebrae

When you're kayaking, you're sitting down for a long time with your legs stretched out in front of you. This position can put a lot of pressure on your lower back, especially if you're not sitting with proper posture. If you've ever sat in an uncomfortable chair for a long time, you know how much it can hurt your back. Kayaking is kind of like that, but with the added pressure of paddling.

The good news is that you can minimize the impact of kayaking on your back by sitting with proper posture. Make sure to sit up straight with your shoulders back and your feet flat on the bottom of the kayak. This will help distribute your weight evenly and take some of the pressure off your lower back.

It's also important to take breaks and stretch your back muscles periodically while you're kayaking. You can lean forward and touch your toes, or twist your torso gently from side to side to stretch out your back muscles.

Types of kayaking and factors contributing to back pain

Kayaking is an awesome way to explore the outdoors and get some exercise. But did you know that the type of kayaking you do can contribute to back pain? Let's take a closer look at the different types of kayaking and the factors that can put stress on your back.

First up, there's recreational kayaking. This is the type of kayaking that most people are familiar with - paddling around a calm lake or river for fun. While recreational kayaking is generally less strenuous than other types of kayaking, it can still cause back pain if you're not careful. Poor posture and slouching can put pressure on your lower back, leading to discomfort and pain.

Next, there's touring kayaking. This is for the kayakers who want to go on a longer journey, exploring new areas, and spending multiple days on the water. Touring kayaks are longer and narrower than recreational kayaks, which means they move faster and require more effort to paddle. This increased effort can put more strain on your back muscles, especially if you're not used to it. Proper technique and posture are essential to prevent back pain when touring kayaking.

Finally, there's whitewater kayaking. This is not for the faint of heart! Whitewater kayaking involves navigating rapids and fast-moving water. It requires a lot of skill and strength, and it can be very physically demanding. The sudden jolts and twists of the kayak as it moves through the rapids can put a lot of pressure on your back. If you're not prepared or have poor technique, you can easily end up with a sore back or worse. I wouldn't recommend this if you are prone to back problems.

Whitewater kayaking

No matter what type of kayaking you're into, there are several factors that can contribute to back pain. Improper technique and posture are major culprits. Sitting for long periods of time in a kayak can also put pressure on your lower back. And if you're pushing yourself too hard, or not taking breaks, your back muscles can become fatigued and sore.

Proper paddling technique

Now that you know how kayaking can affect your back, it's time to talk about proper paddling techniques. You don't want to be flailing around in the water like a fish out of water - you want to look like a pro! Here are some tips to help you paddle like a champ.

First things first, let's talk about hand placement. You want to hold the paddle with both hands, with your hands shoulder-width apart. Your knuckles should be facing up and your elbows should be slightly bent. Don't grip the paddle too tightly - you don't want to tire out your hands before you even get started.

Next up is the actual paddling motion. Start by putting one blade of the paddle in the water near your feet. Then, pull the blade through the water towards your hip. As you do this, rotate your torso and keep your arms straight. Once the blade reaches your hip, lift it out of the water and repeat the motion on the other side.

Remember to keep your strokes smooth and controlled. Don't paddle too fast or too hard - this can cause unnecessary strain on your back. Instead, focus on maintaining a steady rhythm and pace.

Another important tip is to use your core muscles when paddling. Your arms will tire out quickly if you rely solely on them for power. By engaging your core muscles, you'll be able to paddle longer and more efficiently.

Lastly, don't forget to take breaks and stretch your back and arms periodically. Kayaking is a fun and rewarding activity, but you don't want to overdo it and end up with a sore back the next day.

Are you a visual learner? Here is a useful video that can also show you how to properly paddle

Tips for preventing back pain while kayaking

When it comes to kayaking, there's nothing worse than experiencing back pain. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to prevent it from happening. Let's take a look at some helpful tips!

  1. Mind your posture: When you're paddling in your kayak, make sure you sit up straight and avoid slouching. This will help you maintain a neutral spine position and take the pressure off your lower back.
  2. Strengthen your core: A strong core can do wonders for your back health. Engage your abs and other core muscles while paddling to keep your back stable and supported.
  3. Take breaks: Kayaking can be a pretty intense activity, so it's important to take breaks when you need to. This will give your back and other muscles a chance to rest and recover.
  4. Switch up your position: If you're feeling discomfort in your back, try adjusting your position in the kayak. You can shift your weight forward or backward, change your leg position, or even stand up and stretch for a bit.
  5. Stretch it out: Before and after your kayaking session, take some time to stretch your back and other muscles. This will help prevent stiffness and soreness, and keep you feeling limber.

By following these tips, you can prevent back pain and enjoy your kayaking experience to the fullest! Remember to always listen to your body and take care of yourself.

Photo by Lorri Thomasson / Unsplash

Choosing the right kayak and equipment

Choosing the right kayak and equipment is crucial when it comes to preventing back pain. The right kayak can make all the difference between a pain-free paddle and a trip to the chiropractor. Here are some tips for choosing the best kayak and equipment for your back:

First things first, consider the type of kayaking you'll be doing. If you're planning to go on a leisurely paddle around a lake or calm river, a recreational kayak may be just the ticket. If you're planning to tackle some whitewater, you'll need a kayak designed for that purpose. Be sure to choose a kayak that suits your skill level, too. There's no point in getting a kayak that's too advanced for you and causing yourself unnecessary pain.

Next, pay attention to the material your kayak is made from. Kayaks can be made from a variety of materials, such as plastic, fiberglass, or kevlar. Each material has its pros and cons, but when it comes to your back, plastic kayaks tend to be the most forgiving. They're more flexible than other materials and can absorb some of the shock from choppy waters, which means less jarring for your back.

Another important factor to consider is the size of the kayak. If you're taller or have a longer torso, you'll want to look for a kayak with a longer cockpit to accommodate your body. Similarly, if you have a shorter torso, look for a kayak with a shorter cockpit. You don't want to be cramped in a kayak that's too small or sliding around in one that's too big.

When it comes to equipment, a good paddle can also make a big difference. Look for a paddle that's the right length for your height and the type of kayaking you'll be doing. A paddle that's too short or too long can put unnecessary strain on your back, arms, and shoulders. And, while it may be tempting to go for the cheapest option, investing in a high-quality paddle can reduce the risk of injury and pain.

Finally, make sure you're properly outfitted with a comfortable seat and backrest. Some kayaks come with adjustable seats and backrests, which can help you find the perfect fit. If your kayak doesn't have an adjustable seat, consider purchasing an aftermarket seat or pad to ensure you're comfortable and supported throughout your paddle.

Remember, the key to preventing back pain while kayaking is to choose the right kayak and equipment for your body and skill level. Don't be afraid to try out a few different kayaks before making a decision, and invest in high-quality equipment that will support your back and make your kayaking experience enjoyable and pain-free.

Common misconceptions about kayaking and back pain

In all of my years of kayaking, I've heard many misconceptions when it comes to kayaking and back pain. Let's take a look at a few of the most common ones:

First off, some folks think that only older people or those with pre-existing back conditions are at risk of experiencing back pain while kayaking. But in reality, anyone can be affected, regardless of age or fitness level. Whether you're a seasoned kayaker or a newbie, you should always be aware of your posture and technique to avoid straining your back muscles. Bad posture can cause you back pain, regardless of whether you've had it in the past.

Another myth is that you need to have a strong back to kayak. While it's true that kayaking can be physically demanding, it's not just your back muscles that are doing the work. Proper paddling technique involves engaging your core and leg muscles as well, which can help to distribute the workload and reduce strain on your back.

Some people also believe that kayaking in calm, flat water is less likely to cause back pain than kayaking in rougher waters. However, the truth is that even in calm waters, the repetitive motion of paddling and sitting in a kayak for an extended period of time can put strain on your back. It's important to take breaks and stretch regularly, regardless of the water conditions. That being said, calm waters will always be a better option than anything else.

Finally, some folks might think that the type of kayak you use can make a big difference in whether or not you experience back pain. While choosing the right kayak and equipment can certainly help, it's not the only factor at play. Your posture and technique, as well as the amount of time you spend kayaking, are also important factors to consider.

In conclusion, there are many misconceptions out there when it comes to kayaking and back pain. However, with proper technique, posture, and equipment, anyone can enjoy kayaking without experiencing discomfort or strain on their back. So, grab your paddle and hit the water with confidence!

Photo by Sasun Bughdaryan / Unsplash

Recovering from back pain caused by kayaking

You did it! You got out on the water and kayaked to your heart's content, but now you're feeling a bit sore in the back. Don't worry; it happens to the best of us. Luckily, there are some easy ways to recover from back pain caused by kayaking.

First, stretching is your new best friend. A few simple stretches can go a long way in alleviating that pesky back pain. Try stretching your hamstrings, hips, and lower back, holding each stretch for 10-15 seconds. Remember to breathe deeply and avoid any pain or discomfort.

If the pain persists, consider visiting a chiropractor. These experts specialize in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal issues like back pain. They can use various techniques, including spinal manipulation and massage, to help you get back on your feet in no time.

Additionally, you may want to take a break from kayaking for a little while to give your back some time to heal. It's important to listen to your body and not push yourself too hard, as this can cause further damage.

Finally, keep in mind that prevention is key. Strengthening exercises, proper posture, and taking breaks during kayaking can all help prevent back pain from occurring in the first place.


In conclusion, kayaking is a fantastic way to get outside, enjoy nature, and get some exercise. However, it's important to be aware of the potential impact on your back health. Sitting for extended periods in a kayak can put pressure on your lower back, causing discomfort and pain.

But don't worry! By taking the necessary precautions, you can enjoy kayaking without any back pain. Proper posture and technique, strengthening exercises, and taking breaks are all important in preventing back pain. Additionally, choosing the right kayak and equipment and adjusting them properly can go a long way in ensuring your comfort and safety.

It's also important to remember that recovery from back pain caused by kayaking is possible. Stretching exercises and chiropractic care can help alleviate any discomfort you may experience.

So, if you're looking to try kayaking, go for it! With the tips and knowledge you've gained from this post, you can enjoy the outdoors and keep your back healthy and pain-free.