Back Pain: Don't do what I did!

Sunday, 17 July 2011 07:18 | Written by  Chris Walker
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Chris Walker Chris Walker Credits: Chris Walker

"Life's too short to learn from our own experience, instead, learn from others and save the expense..."

 I recently hurt my back and was forced to stop training in my kayak and ski for six weeks.  In the process of repair I found some amazing things I’ve been doing wrong for at least eighteen months, and thought readers might benefit from my mistakes.

I’ll list them in no specific order.

1. Lack of out of boat stretching

When I went to the chiropractor and Osteopath’s to have my back examined they both exclaimed in frustration how athletes so often ignore the counter stretching necessary to keep tendons and muscles open for good blood flow.

It seems, although I was doing heaps of stretch, core strength exercises and yoga, I was actually stretching all the wrong muscles in the right way.

For example: I stretch my hamstrings, but these get tight because of their limited movement in the recovery phase of the stroke. The real needy muscles were quads, gluteus and tendons around the sciatic nerve. This was naivety on my part. I’m sure a physiotherapist or sports medical expert, yoga teacher could label the muscles needing tenderizing better than me....

2. Training Sessions Too Long

I love paddling, I love paddling for miles and miles and miles. However, according to all good training discipline I should have been getting out of the boat more frequently, walking, swimming and stretching then, happily resuming my training. Instead, I’d try to do marathon distances all too regularly and see how far or long I could travel without exiting the boat or ski. This did a lot of damage. 

3. Training Tired

According to the results of the X-rays on my sacrum, I’ve been paddling stooped, or slouched over. If you took a photo or video of my paddle style that isn’t obvious, not until I get tired or, as is the case with my ski, I start to hunker down to improve my balance. (subconscious way to lower my centre of gravity) It means, a. I trained on tiredness too often and b. My ski was way above my healthy posture zone... Both things I’d been told but thought were under control.

4. Acidity

When my back went, it went fast. But the damage had taken eighteen months to accumulate, with scar tissue and tendon damage caused by muscle strain around the sciatic nerve. What’s that mean? It means I waited for an injury to accumulate instead of doing preventative maintenance. The one accumulation that was worst of all was acidity.  When we train, stress our body or burn fuel our body produces acid. When we eat recovery fuel, fuel for burning and protein for muscle, we acidify our body. Acid is like rust and if we don’t alkalize our body, i.e balance the ph, we die young. Nutritionally I followed all the advice but, I obviously became acidic, and acid makes muscles and tendons tough like leather instead of supple like rubber. In the recovery process and for my ongoing training I’m taking Paul Bragg Apple Cider vinegar in my drinking water, and massive doses of Green Based Concentrated Capsules (wheat grass etc).

5. Foot plate too close

In my ski the back of the seat provides ample room for twist so locating the foot plate was an easy task. In my sea kayak however, the back of the seat is designed to help grip my body when in a roll, so it’s more vertical. As I improved my paddle stroke technique, with lesson after lesson and drill after drill I moved from simply upper body rotation to whole body rotation forcing more movement of my hips against the back of the kayak seat. This pressure damaged my spine. Instead of this, I could, should and would if I’d known, moved the foot plate out so in a dead square sitting position I was in the most extended leg position and when rotated, my leg was in the most compressed. In other words the foot plate position should have been set with body rotated, not square. I know this sounds dumb to all you advanced people, but for me, this is big news and it wasn’t important until I learned good technique...

6. Last.... Listen

About six months ago I came in from paddling with a tender lower back. I sat in a hot/cold/hot/cold bath... Took an anti-inflammatory and went to bed. In the morning all was great and I went back to training. Big mistake... That warning could have saved me a half completed trip in the Himalayas, six weeks of agony and goodness knows how much money in medicals. (not to mention my lost opportunity paddling in Sydney Winter winds)


My Chiropractor in Sydney lectures at Sydney University. His experience is that cold from the legs brings problems for sciatic and sacrum areas of the body. This, like sitting on the cold plastic of a ski or kayak with thin shorts might be another cause related issue. I’m choosing better paddle pants from now on... No cold bum for me..... At least until I get home late from paddling again....

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