Lakewood Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine

Sports Information

Rowing is a total-body exercise that improves cardiovascular health, muscular strength, and endurance

These gains are accomplished without high impact. Despite the low impact nature of rowing, injuries are frequent, especially in novice rowers who may overtrain or employ poor rowing technique. As with all exercise programs “too much, too soon, too fast” is a recipe for disaster and rowing is no exception. Overtraining can lead to a myriad of injuries and as rowing is a full body workout, these injuries can occur almost anywhere.

The most common rowing related injury is low-back pain. As rowers drive through each stroke, 225 pounds of force are exerted on the spine. These forces are increased by muscle fatigue, and as they get more tired they don’t perform as well. Athletes can minimize their injury risks by keeping training periods to less than 30 minutes, strengthening their hip flexors and core muscles, and performing a regular stretching program.

A number of less common, but more severe and detrimental spinal injuries can result from rowing, including vertebra fractures, which can be extremely painful, but will typically improve with rest, muscular strengthening, and stretching. However, if this injury goes untreated the affected vertebra can slip forward (“spondylolisthesis”), which can compress the spinal cord and cause shooting pain or numbness down the legs.

Herniated inter-vertebral discs result from similar mechanisms and present with similar signs and symptoms. If you feel pain in your back, it is important to be seen by a sports medicine professional for a proper diagnosis. The ribs are also commonly injured during rowing. Muscles pull on the ribs with each stroke, which may cause the ribs to move and bend. This movement and bending can lead to stress fractures.

The forearms and wrists are also vulnerable to overtraining injuries often from inflammation of the tendons. Inflammation of the muscle and tendons can lead to significant levels of pain and difficulty with grip strength. The vast majority of rowing related injuries respond to conservative treatments, including ice, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS, e.g., ibuprofen), and rest.

The best treatment for an injury however is prevention. Proper form and workout periods of less than 30 minutes will allow athletes to obtain the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal benefits and mitigate their risk for injury. Remember, to start with low resistance on the equipment and build up gradually with time and training.