What troubles canoeists

CLcanadian canoeing vacationDo you also belong to the excited visitors of the rivers in summer? Do you enjoy spending whole summer by the river, and you don’t stop enjoying it even in the autumn? Let’s look at the most common problems of people who enjoy water tourism and options how to deal with it or prevent it.


The biggest problems which affects canoeists result from one sided overload. Of course there are existing exceptions, for example people who use double paddle. In case you use single paddle you won’t avoid using one side of your body more than the other. Human body works in muscle chains in order to secure optimal function and stability. It is therefore logical that when we paddle mainly on the left side, we will involve more the right leg and vice versa. So when we paddle we activate the function of the thigh flexor muscles (m. iliopsoas major). Imbalance in using a certain muscle groups leads to overloading of one muscle group and weakening of other muscle groups which is not involved in the motion. Over a period of time there will be muscle dysbalance - imbalance. Overloaded muscles have a tendency to be involved in the movement, in which their activity is not dominant, or even needed. Insufficient regeneration of these muscle groups is causing accumulation of waste substances created with the muscle activity. These substances create “hyperalgesic zones” - areas on our muscles which hurt if we touch it. Presence of the lactic acid distorts the muscle fibres and they can break with further overloading. With repeated contraction the muscle loses the ability of fast regeneration and has a tendency to shorten.

Another problem can be often rotation of the trunk during paddling. The pelvis is always a stable point on which the trunk turns to the sides with activity of the abdominal muscles. Repeated movement leads to increased range of movement in a certain part of the spine, usually between the thoracic and lumbar spine. With long term pressure on the spine, the spine reaches a certain level of hypermobility and it leads to wearing off the intervertebral joints which can lead to arthrosis. Increased mobility in one part of the spine is evoked by a blockage of the neighboring segment which agains affects the tension of the surrounding muscles. Simply put, it is projected as pain in the lumbar area, breathing difficulties, pain between the shoulderblades, pain in the cervical spine are etc...

The legs and feet are an independent chapter. With long term sitting in a canoe, your legs are basically in one position without the possibility of a distinct change. They are involved mainly isometrically (static clenching of the muscles in a specific position) and thus stabilize the trunk during the dynamic movement. Without the option of stretching, the hamstrings are shortening - the flexors of the knees and extensors of the hips on the back side of the thigh. Tension in the muscles in the pelvic area and tailbone causes shortening of the muscles and pain in the sacrum. Keeping the knees bent for a long time leads to deficiency of nutrients flowing to the bursae around the knee joints. There is increased friction in the knee because of the decreased amount of the synovial fluid in the knee joints, which also leads to faster wear off of the cartilage. Knees are after a whole day of sitting in a boat stiff and painful.


We don’t want to just criticise all the time, therefore we will also bring out the positives in this sport. Firstly you are hardening your body and training your immunity system along with the thermoregulation system. Canoeists are always getting in contact with the water, and then they get dry, this way you improve your blood vessels system, which has to expand and tense up the blood vessels. The endurance against the weather strengthens the immunity. Strengthening the center of the body during compensated paddling when the musculoskeletal system is burdened evenly on both sides. Last but not least, you spend the time outside on the fresh air, enjoying what you like to do, filtering stress and actively relaxing.


  • Always burden your body evenly on both sides, in order to prevent overload of one side and cause muscle disbalance. If you have a single paddle, change the sides in approximately same intervals. If you feel tired on one side, shorten the interval and keep it the same way on the other side as well.
  • Don’t forget to stretch after you’ve been whole day paddling the river. Muscles which work constantly tend to shorten. For their relief you can help yourself with stretching and relaxation. Important parts are especially forearms, deltoid muscles, trapezius muscles, spinal erectors and hamstrings.
  • And also don’t forget to breathe regularly. Diaphragmatic breathing is a key for correct function if the deep stabilizing system, which gives a stability to your spine and protects it from the damage.

Paddling the rivers is a actionate and beautiful sport full of experiences. Improve your favorite activity by these easy tips and avoid any problems and hard times. Enjoy your stay in the nature!

FYZIOklinika physiotherapy Ltd., Prague, Czech Republic

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