Rowing Injuries – Lower Back

Competitive rowing is a tough sport! Our senior physiotherapist, Laura, reviews common injuries often seen in rowers.
Laura McAdam

Laura McAdam

Bachelor of Physiotherapy (Honours)

Laura McAdam

Laura McAdam

Bachelor of Physiotherapy (Honours)

Competitive rowing is an intense sport with gruelling training sessions, and injuries often occur, particularly with the onset of fatigue.

We will cover the more common injuries in a series of blog posts, starting with one of the most common injuries we see in rowers, which is lower back pain.

Lower Back Pain in Rowers

Up to 53% of rowers will experience lower back pain, and in adolescent boys this can be as high as 65%.  High training volume, particular on the Ergo, generally precipitates lower back injuries.  Risk factors for lower back injury include rapid increases in training frequency, intensity and/or volume, poor hip range of motion, poor activation of core musculature through the rowing stroke, particularly at commencement of the ‘drive’ phase, asymmetry of back musculature, and poor technique.  Sometimes these injuries occur in a gym setting when engaging in heavy lifting, rather than in the boat or on the ergometer.

Lower back injuries can include muscle related pain, or more serious cases of disc related injuries or bony stress injuries including spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis.  Disc injury can include ‘bulges’ or herniations, which may or may not have neural implications.

Hip mobility is essential so that the pelvis can rotate appropriately when approaching the ‘catch’, in order to avoid excessive lumbar flexion and load once the ‘drive’ phase commences.

In order to reduce the risk factors of lower back injury, the rower should be assessed for hip mobility, and the ability to engage core musculature in the appropriate part of the rowing stroke.  Symmetry in leg and back muscles is also critical to injury prevention.

At Restore Function Physiotherapy, we can perform pre-season rowing screenings in order to identify risk factors for injury, and can assist the rower in engaging and improving core musculature.  Of course, we can also treat any new or ongoing rowing injuries, but prevention is always the key.



Thornton, Jane S., et al. “Rowing Injuries: An Updated Review.” Sports Medicine, vol. 47, no. 4, 30 Aug. 2016, pp. 641–661,,


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