Row, row, row your boat (without injuries!)

As Emsworth is near a lot of water you might have been, or might want to row. Rowing is a great form of exercise that works your whole body as well as having the lovely scenery of being out on the water.

Like with any sporting activity there is always the chance of injury! So how do you prevent them and if you do pick one up what can be done to help?


The act of optimal rowing can be broken down into 4 stages:

CATCH: Rowers legs and back are fully compressed, the shins are at 90 degrees to the water, the arms are fully extended as the oar enters the water. As a result the blade of the oar must be perpendicular to the water. Blade entry occurs at maximum shoulder extension and is initiated by an independent movement of the handle in relation to the shoulders.

DRIVE: Arms remain straight. At this point the shoulders and arms provide connection for the power source of the legs, hips and lower back. They do not provide the power!Legs engage while the back begins to extend. Once back extension occurs, arms engage to allow for continued acceleration of the blade through the water.

RELEASE: A release angle of 110 degrees in considered optimal. Hands brush the abdomen, at this point the hands tap down to remove the blade from the water. Blades are feathered to become parallel to the water and allow for a more aerodynamic position and to allow rowers to clear any wash or rough conditions that may be present.

RECOVERY: The recovery sequence operates in reverse of the drive sequence. The hands carry the oars to an extended position. A pivot at the hips occurs, maintaining a strong lower back. The slide moves when the body passes through 90 degrees. Full body swing is established by half slide.

Common Rowing Injuries

Lower back pain – This is one of the most common rowing injury. Because of the repetitive motion of the lower back, as well as the force going through it, lower back injuries are not uncommon.

Upper back pain – The act of rowing engages muscles all over the body. That being said if you are rowing with mainly your arms (should be your legs) then you can start to develop pain in the upper back.

Knee pain – With every stroke you are bending your knee, and pushing your power through it.

Wrist tendonitis – The tendons in your wrist can become irritated with the repetitive motion of the oars, this is made worse when not warming up the wrists on a cold morning row. This injury can lead pain and swelling of the wrist.

Blisters – By holding a moving pole in your hands the skin can become irritated and you may develop blisters.

Rib stress fractures – Less common in the average rower these injuries tend to occur in elite athletes who are training all the time. The muscles used in rowing repeatedly pull on the rib which can lead to stress fractures.

Injury Prevention

The easiest way to prevent injuries, starting from today, is to warm up before you row and cool down after you row! I know you are already warming up before you row, 5 minutes before you set off with a nice warm mug of tea! We mean the other kind of warm up, as in order to prevent injuries this isn’t going to cut it! There are plenty of resources online that can guide you through a warm up and cool down specifically tailored for rowing. Experiment with which of these you enjoy and which one suits you.

Ok so you’ve started to warm up and cool down, what’s next? Technique. If you have ‘poor form’ you may be putting excess strain on parts of your body, which in turn can lead to injuries. Even if you have been taught at a young age to row, it may be time to get someone to observe your form. Whether it’s a rowing friend or even a coach sometimes it takes an extra pair of eyes to see where you need to improve. Not only will this help prevent injuries, it will also improve your performance in the water as well.

All warmed up, proper form, anything else? Fitness, strength and conditioning. An unfit person with poor posture and weak abdominal muscles is much more likely to get injured while rowing. It may be worthwhile adding in 1 gym session a week, strengthening the muscles used in rowing in order to prevent injuries. As with the warm up, there are plenty of resources online which give the exact exercises needed for strengthening the muscles used in rowing. And just like with form, advances in the gym will lead to advances out on the water.

Any final tips?

  • Maintian a healthy diet and drink plenty of water (around 2 litres a day, more if you’ve been exercising)
  • Perform regular stretches for your back. Tight muscles are more susceptible to injury.
  • Respect your limitations and don’t over do it when rowing. Back injuries are more likely to occur when you’re tired.
  • Don’t overtrain. Aim to gradually increase your strength and stamina over a period of time.
  • Look after your back in general, for example, lift heavy objects correctly.
  • Speak to your practitioner about specific exercises that will help you with your back mobility and strength


What can I do if I get an injury?

Even if you follow all of the advice above it is still not impossible for you to get injured. With any injury the earlier you treat it the better the outcomes and the quicker you can get back to rowing!

Osteopathy is in the prime position to help you get back out on the water as soon as possible. Osteopaths don’t require long winded referrals, they can see you and treat you in the same appointment and can help you optimise your recovery.

An Osteopathy consultation with James

As mentioned previously the most common injury in rowing is lower back pain. Osteopathy is effective in the treatment of lower back pain (3). Osteopaths use a variety of hands on techniques as well as self care and home rehabilitation advice to optimise your care for you. As well as lower back pain Osteopaths can treat lots of conditions that rowers may pick up, some examples are:

  • Cramp
  • Frozen shoulder/ shoulder and elbow pain/ tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) arising from associated musculoskeletal conditions of the back and neck, but not isolated occurrences
  • Joint pains
  • General, acute & chronic backache, back pain
  • Generalised aches and pains
  • Lumbago
  • Minor sports injuries
  • Muscle spasms
  • Tension and inability to relax
  • Sciatica

If you would like to know more about Osteopathy why not check out my blog here.

Rowing is a fantastic hobby to get into and by taking these simple steps it should be less fraught with injury, allowing you to enjoy it for longer!


Licciardone JC, Brimhall AK, King LN. Osteopathic manipulative treatment for low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. BMC musculoskeletal disorders. 2005 Dec;6(1):43.

Comments (2)

    • Hi David, Thanks for getting in touch. We would be delighted to share this article with you and your patients – if you’d like to chat further please do get in contact. Kind regards, Philippa

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Monday 08:30 – 19:00
Tuesday 09:00 – 19:00
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Thursday 09:00 – 19:00
Friday 08:30 – 19:00
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Acorn Health Limited © 2014 - 2019

Website Created by WebHolism