Back-paddling

I have a history of back problems. It is a growth problem from my childhood, my vertebrae are slightly deformed and therefore more at risk of dislocation. When that happens it is pain beyond words. The whole back locks up in a spasm making just about any movement difficult and very painful.

My back has dislocated a few times, and it is a constant fear that it should happen again.

I started paddling on the advice of my chiropractor, and it does help. I have felt lots better and safer, without any of the little signs that the spine was unhappy.

About a week ago, as we paddled towards the Archipelago di Maddalena on the Costa Smeralda I started getting very sore muscles in my lower back. It was just after a fall on a brink at Golfo Aranci, so I obviously got quite afraid for the state of my back. These pains have sussisted until after Castelsardo, and the muscles are still a bit sore.

It took a few days paddling to figure out what was going on. We paddled in waves of over 1m all those days, and more often that not waves from the side or from several directions simultaneously. Most of the days in waves we also did non-stop paddles of 3-4 hours because we had little possibilities to stop.

The Skim Distance is very long, giving it good speed and directional stability, but is also susceptible to being pushed sideways by waves, which means constant course corrections when in difficult waves. Do that for 3-4 hours without any breaks without previous training, and you’ll have some sore edging muscles in the lower back. Do it for several days in a row, and you’ll have some seriously aching muscles.

It has given me some really bad days on the water, but at least I now know that it is not because my spine is dislocating, but because those muscles are badly overworked. There’s a cure for that: training.

The last two day’s paddling has been in much easier water, and I have had no problems. We’ve done long hours at good speed, and I have not had any pains. The muscles are still a bit sore, but not in a problematic way.

This being my first long journey in kayak, I’m not surprised some mucles are complaining, but I would have been less scared and bothered had it been somewhere else than my lower back.

Posted in Sardinia 2007/8
4 comments on “Back-paddling
  1. Anonymous says:

    Hope all stays well with the back~carrie in pr

  2. rkkayak says:

    I have suffered with the horror of severe back pain in the past.

    I highly recommend the book Healing Back Pain by Dr. John Sarno.
    It saved my marriage and my life. Hope you are both well
    Rich K.

  3. René van der Zwan says:

    Hi René,

    I would like to comment on your remark about the Skim Distances and what you call it “being susceptible to being pushed sideways by waves, which means constant course corrections when in difficult waves”.

    Having paddled a few months in the Skim Distance in heavy wweather and difficult waves, I would like to approach this issue from the opposite point of view:

    Following my experience every kayak will be pushed aside or pushed around in difficult waves.
    Normally you even do not notice this very hard because you will bring the kayak back on course without thinking. The more manoeuvrable the kayak is, the more it will work out like that.

    In the Skim Distance this works out different: because the kayak is not manoeuvrable in waves, you must put (much) more effort in keeping course than in most kayaks. Especially when wind is involved as well and the kayaks starts leecocking.
    I can imagine, while working hard on sweepstrokes in waves, that your back will get sore bringing over the momentum from the sweepstroke

    Does this approach from the other side make some sense to you?

    Regards
    Safe journey
    René van der Zwan

    PS
    Be carefull with your back. Only got one!

  4. René Seindal says:

    Hi René

    Thanks for your response.

    Actually, I hadn’t associated my backaches with the Distance as such. I simply thought of it as a question of insufficient training or insufficient technique

    I have always found the Distance very responsive to edging, and hence quite manoeuvrable, but that has always been unloaded and in fairly calm waters. This journey is the first time I have had a loaded kayak in such waves for extended periods.

    One thing I do know is that it has been hard work handling the Distance in difficult waves.

    I have mostly tried to do course corrections using the techniques I have used all the time in the Distance, that is, by edging. In calm waters its quite efficient and easy, but in high waves or side waves it often has very little if any effect. On the other hand, sometimes it does exactly what I wanted. I haven’t been able to figure out why it sometimes worked but mostly not.

    I have tried to avoid using sweep strokes excessively because I knew it would kill my arms and shoulders.

    The lee-cocking issue hasn’t affected me. I experienced it once in Sweden, but down here the Distance has weathercocked as expected. When I have been too tired to keep it on course, I have in fact let it go downwind by itself, and then turned it upwind by raising the skeg. In essence a simple way of giving the sore muscles a break.

    I can assure you that I’m careful with my back. I know how painful back problems can be.

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