Stand up paddle boarding is a fantastic full-body workout that’s ideal for people of all ages and sizes. It may look gentle and simple but it does a good job of engaging and strengthening almost every muscle in your body.
While this sounds great, it raises the question of causing injury. People with common issues like back pain may be hesitant for fear of suffering further harm.
So is paddle boarding bad for your back? No. Stand up paddle boarding is not bad for your back. If anything, it can help with back problems. But it all depends on how you paddle. There’s the right way that’s good for your back and the wrong way that could cause pain.
Note: If you have a preexisting condition, it is best to consult your doctor first.
Does Paddle Boarding Strengthen Your Back?
Yes, SUP boarding strengthens your back, in several ways.
First, stand up paddle boarding is a great core exercise. A board on the water creates an unstable surface. Maintaining balance takes effort and the use of your core muscles. This improves your core strength and, in turn, better support for your back.
SUP also directly engages the back muscles, if done correctly. It reduces stiffness and improves mobility. As a result, connective tissues won’t tear under exercise, which could lead to pain and injury.
Can Stand Up Paddling Help with Back Pain?
Yes, stand up paddling can actually help alleviate back pain.
According to this study, an exercise program that combines flexibility, muscle strengthening, and aerobic fitness can help with chronic back pain. That sounds a bit like stand up paddle boarding, doesn’t it?
Stand up paddle boarding is an efficient full-body workout. It strengthens your abdominal and back muscles, which are like a corset for your spine. They do a better job of supporting your back when they are stronger and this prevents straining which causes pain.
ALSO READ: What Muscles Does Paddle Boarding Work?
SUP also helps with flexibility, more so SUP yoga which is becoming more common. More flexibility translates to a wider range of motion, reducing the risk of injury and pain when you move or perform physical activities.
Lastly, paddle boarding is a good aerobic exercise. It facilitates the flow of nutrients and blood to the soft tissues in your back. This helps the back heal faster and can also reduce stiffness.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding and Back Pain
SUP boarding isn’t bad for your back and it can even help reduce back pain. However, it can also cause serious injury or make your back pain worse, if you do it wrong.
Upper Back Pain
Some people complain about a tender upper back after paddle boarding, likely due to the fact that the upper back muscles are in use during a SUP session.
The rhomboid muscles are among the many muscles used in stand up paddle boarding. They are big muscles responsible for a lot of things including moving your shoulder blades, lifting your arm, and performing pulling motions.
These are all movements that you perform while paddle boarding. So as you can imagine, the rhomboid muscles do a lot of work, and as a result can become tender.
If you spend too much time on your paddle board, especially if you weren’t active before, you may get a little sore in your back and shoulders.
This could be normal muscle soreness, which goes away after some time. But it could also be a result of actual damage. Upper back problems can result from overuse, injury, or strain, so it’s important to know your limits, and not push yourself if you are prone to injury.
Paddle boarding requires the use of almost every muscle group in your body. They work together to ensure an efficient and powerful paddle stroke. But some paddlers may rely too much on the rhomboid muscles and they end up working harder than they should, causing pain.
Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain is quite common and affects four out of five people at some point in their lives.
In paddle boarding, you have to bend slightly in order to paddle properly. When bending forward, some paddlers stiffen and flex their lower backs. You may not even notice that you’re doing it.
Being in this position for a long period stresses the tissues, which can sometimes lead to muscular pain in the lower back. It’s also important to note that it can cause further back injury in people that were already having lower back issues – so if you know you have problems with your lower back, it is very important to go steady, maintaining proper form as you paddle, and above all to be careful.
It is up to you whether or not you feel that paddling with lower back pain is possible for you. While some people find SUP to help rehabilitate them, others may find it aggravates them.
You may also experience low back pain after paddling if your lower back muscles are doing most of the work. As mentioned, paddle boarding is a team effort as far as your body goes, where every muscle has to do its job.
It isn’t unheard of for someone to complain of a little hip pain while paddle boarding or shortly after. Poor posture while paddling may be the cause. It could also be because of age or something unrelated to SUP. It’s always best to see a doctor if that happens.
What Causes Back Pain When Stand Up Paddle Boarding?
Stand up paddle boarding, if done right, is supposed to help with back pain and hip pain. So what could be causing you to experience pain? I’ll discuss the causes and then the solutions further below.
Poor Paddling Form
Poor form is the leading cause of back pain for paddlers. Many people don’t take the time to master the correct posture.
One common mistake that may cause back pain from paddle boarding is not standing properly. Instead of standing at the center of the paddle board, people often stand too far forward or too far back. This makes it harder to maintain balance and control the SUP board.
Another mistake is flexing or stiffening your back. When paddlers, especially beginners, bend forward while paddling, they arch their back without even realizing it. So during the entire session, the back is flexed awkwardly and not relaxed. This leads to lower back pain or causes more pain and further damage to someone with back issues.
Lastly, bending your knees too much could also be a reason for your pain. You’ll be straining your back and soon you might develop back pain.
Wrong Paddling Technique
Even with the right form, you could still land in trouble if you aren’t paddling properly. A lot of paddle boarders make so many mistakes here.
The first mistake is letting your arms do all the work instead of engaging different muscle groups. This causes shoulder problems as well as upper back issues. You’ll also get worn out too quickly.
One way you might be doing this is by holding your paddle incorrectly, with your hands too close together or too far apart.
You’ll also strain your back if you stand straight and don’t bend while making your paddle stroke. Your hands and shoulders will be doing too much and it will be hard to keep your back relaxed. This results in upper and lower back problems.
Incorrect Paddle Size
Your paddle could be causing you to have back problems. If it is too long, you won’t be able to hold it properly and this means you can’t use the right muscles to paddle. You’ll be overusing your arms and this could lead to injuries in your upper back, shoulders, and even elbows.
If it’s too short, you’ll also have a problem holding it the right way. To compensate, you’ll bend your back and knees a little too much, causing unnecessary strain on your back.
Doing Too Much Too Soon
Although paddle boarding is a gentle exercise, it’s quite effective when it comes to working muscles. And as you know by now, your back has a huge part to play in producing that SUP forward motion.
If you do too much too soon you might strain your back muscles.
Paddling In the Surf
Stand up paddleboarding on calm water is easy and gentle, almost everyone can do it. But when you move to surf, the risk of developing back pain rises.
Maneuvering in the surf is more strenuous and you might find yourself struggling to maintain the proper form, more so when you get tired. You’ll also be more likely to make sudden movements which may result in a back injury.
How to Prevent Back Pain When Paddle Boarding
Here is how you can prevent lower and upper back pain when paddle boarding.
Use the Right Size Paddle
Having a paddle that’s the right length makes it easier to practice and master the proper paddling technique. So when you paddle you won’t put too much pressure on your spine and back muscles.
There are different methods you can use to find the right paddle length, the simplest being to about 6 inches to your height.
Alternatively, hold your paddle up, parallel to your body. Have one hand on the shaft and the other hand on the handle. Adjust the length until you’re able to comfortably rest the wrist of the upper hand on the handle. The arm should be slightly bent at the elbow.
Master the Proper Paddling Form and Technique
When paddling, you should keep your feet shoulder-width apart and make sure you’re standing at the center of your SUP. If you stand too far back or forward it will be harder to stay balanced and control the paddle board.
Bend your knees slightly and bend forward when making your paddle stroke. You should still be able to see your toes. If you can’t see them, you’re bending your knees too much.
While bending forward, avoid flexing or stiffening your back to avoid injury. Keep your back straight, relaxed, and neutral.
Make sure you’re holding your paddle correctly. With one hand on the handle and another one on the shaft, place the paddle on your head, perpendicular to your body. Adjust the hand on the shaft until both arms are at a 90-degree angle.
While making a paddle stroke, bend forward slightly–remember to keep your back straight and relaxed. Twist your body a little towards the side you’re paddling on, hinging at the hips.
This is the correct technique. It ensures that all the bigger muscle groups are engaged, especially your core muscles which is where most of the power will come from. That way, your back muscles won’t strain.
Instead of pushing yourself too hard, it’s important to build up your back strength and core strength gradually. Start slowly, with short sessions on flat water, and see how you feel. This is especially important if you are older, on the bigger side, recovering from surgery, or have existing back issues.
Avoid the surf if you’re still a newbie. Maybe wait until you’ve built muscle strength and mastered the correct form and technique.
Warm Up Before Your Sessions
Never underestimate the power of a simple warm-up before your paddle session.
Warming up prepares your body for paddle boarding. It raises your heart rate and facilitates blood flow to the muscles. Blood vessels dilate and pump blood more efficiently to the muscles, increasing oxygen supply. It also loosens stiff muscles.
There are no specific exercises for warming up before SUP. You can take a walk at the beach or do some simple exercises for about 10 minutes.
Try Stretching Exercises
Stretching improves your mobility and reduces the risk of injury when paddling. Join a yoga class or find stretching exercises on YouTube. In addition to improving your range of motion for SUP, they can also relieve lower and upper back pain.
Do Other Strengthening Exercises Off the Water
Muscle weakness can cause back pain. Try other gentle exercises off the water to build strength in your legs, glutes, core, back, and arm muscles. So when you get on the paddle board you’ll not experience pain as a result of overworking weak muscles.
Is paddle boarding bad for your back?
No, stand up paddle boarding is actually a good workout that can help alleviate back pain. However, as with all types of physical exercise, if done wrong it could lead to back pain or make your back problems worse.
Avoid doing too much too soon if you haven’t been active for a while. If you have any pre existing issues, you should consult your doctor before paddle boarding.
Back pain and hip pain after paddling could be a result of poor form and paddling technique. Take some time to learn the right posture and the proper way to paddle. If possible, talk to a SUP instructor.
Make sure your paddle is the correct length too.