Rowing Injuries

Rowing Injuries

Article by John Miller


Rowing is a great way to get fit and allow you to enjoy the beauty of your local river or lake.

Rowing is a fantastic sport for developing core, leg and arm strength, plus all the cardiovascular benefits. Unfortunately, given the nature of the sport, it does have a reasonably high incidence of lower back and overuse injuries.

Fun Fact: Did you know that improperly supported forces approaching 1000N can be loaded through your lumbar spine if imbalances or errors in your technique are present? That’s over 100kg through your spine, every stroke!

The ribs are another area that can come under a lot of stress as a result of rowing and fractures are common to athletes who train and compete often. Unfortunately, it’s not until the athlete is in significant pain that they bring the issue up with their coach – at this point it can be too late and prolonged time off the water is inevitable. Early chest wall pain identification is key!

Rowing injuries can also come in the form of muscle strains or tendon friction injuries.

The rowing stroke is a repeated continuous cycle, from a position with the legs flexed, elbows straight to a fully extended knee position and elbow flexion with the oar handle drawn into the body. A strong back and core strength is a vital component to increase power through the stroke and avoid injury. Poor technique is common, especially in novice rowers, and unless this is rectified, injuries are almost inevitable.

Rowers should always be looking to improve the way they row to reduce their risk of injury. To avoid rowing injuries you should ensure you undertake core and strength training that will provide you with the muscular power to cope with the demands of the sport as well as a flexibility program to ensure you have the necessary range of motion to perform the stroke.

Rowing Injury Risk Factors

Some of the risk factors that can increase your risk of sustaining a rowing injury include:

  • Poor technique
  • Lack of fitness
  • Overtraining
  • Musculoskeletal limitations
  • Unsupervised resistance training
  • Excessive running as part of land training.

Rowing Injury Prevention Suggestions

  • Undertake a PhysioWorks Pre-Season Rowing Screening – have your biomechanics, muscle lengths and strengths assessed by an experienced physiotherapist to assess your weaknesses to prevent an injury.
  • Attain a good level of general health and fitness.
  • Warm-up thoroughly.
  • Stretching is an important part of your cool-down routine.

Immediate Injury Management Advice:

  • Stop immediately if an injury occurs to help prevent further damage.
  • Rowing through the pain will only aggravate the injury.
  • Seek prompt treatment of the injury.
  • Early management will mean less time away from rowing.
  • Treat your soft tissue injuries (ligament sprains, muscle strains, bumps and bruises) with rest, ice, compression, elevation until you seek the advice of your health professional.
  • Do not resume activity until you have completely recovered from injury and have been advised it is safe by your health professional.
  • Watch your technique and address any technique errors.
  • If you experience any discomfort in your chest (suspicion of a rib stress fracture), in line with Rowing Australia guidelines, 4 days of no water training is highly recommended.

Being able to perform a pain-free push-up, sit-up, deep breath, cough and rib spring as well as experiencing no Night Pain or pain with activities of daily living (ADL) is recommended before returning to full rowing training.

Common Rowing Injuries

The most common rowing injury is low back pain – closely followed by the knee! Given rowing is a repetitive sport, it is no surprise that the evidence shows that most injuries are overuse in nature and not so much traumatic (73.8% overuse vs 26.2% traumatic). So any small musculoskeletal limitation placed under repetitive stress could develop into an injury. As rowing incorporates all the joints of the body to various degrees, an injury can be sustained to any joint. Aside from the back and knee, common rowing injuries include upper back and neck pain, muscle injuries, knee pain, wrist tendinopathies from oar rotations and the obvious hand blisters. Rib stress fractures tend to occur in athletes who are overtraining.

Arm Pain Causes

Arm pain and injuries are widespread. Arm pain can occur as a result of either sudden, traumatic or repetitive overuse. The causes can be related to sports injuries, work injuries or simply everyday arm use.

Arm pain can be a local injury, musculoskeletal injury or could even be referred from nerves in your neck (cervical radiculopathy). This can result in neck-arm pain.

Causes of Arm Pain by Region

Causes of Arm Pain by Structure

Neck-Related Arm Pain

Shoulder-Related Arm Pain

Elbow-Related Arm Pain

Wrist-Related Arm Pain

Hand-Related Arm Pain

Muscle-Related Arm Pain

Other Sources of Arm Pain

Common Causes of Arm Pain

The most common sources of arm pain include shoulder painwrist pain and elbow pain.

Referred Arm Pain

As mentioned earlier, arm pain can be referred to from another source. Cervical radiculopathy is a common source of referred arm pain. Cervical radiculopathy will not respond to treatment where you feel the arm pain. However, it will respond positively to treatment at the source of the injury (e.g. your neck joints).

Professional assessment from a health practitioner skilled in diagnosing both spinal-origin and local-origin (muscle and joint) injuries (e.g. your physiotherapist) is recommended to ensure an accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment directed at the arm pain source.

Arm Pain has Diverse Causes.

The causes of your arm pain can be extensive and varied. Due to this diversity, your arm pain should be assessed by a suitably qualified health practitioner to attain an accurate diagnosis, treatment plan and implementation specific to your arm pain.

What Arm Pain is Associated with a Heart Attack?

Left-arm pain can be an early sign of a life-threatening cardiac issue. Based on this, a professional medical assessment that involves an accurate history, symptom analysis, physical examination and diagnostic tests to exclude a potential heart attack is important to exclude this potentially life-threatening source of arm pain.

For more information, please consult with your health practitioner, call an ambulance on 000, or visit a hospital emergency department to put your mind at ease.

Good News. Most Arm Pain is NOT Life-Threatening.

Luckily, life-threatening arm pain is far less likely than a local musculoskeletal injury. Arm pain caused by a localised arm muscle, tendon or joint injury should be assessed and confirmed by your health practitioner before commencing treatment.

Arm Pain Prognosis

The good news is that arm pain, and injury will normally respond very favourably to medical or physiotherapy intervention when early professional assessment and treatment is sought. Please do not delay in consulting your healthcare practitioner if you experience arm pain.

Common Arm Pain Treatments

With accurate assessment and early treatment, most arm injuries respond extremely quickly to physiotherapy or medical care, allowing you to resume pain-free and normal activities of daily living quickly.

Please ask your physiotherapist for their professional treatment advice.