Back Trouble

Joined
Aug 1, 2011
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Ontario
HELLLP!
I've messed up my back big time- 1 Herniated disk, 1 Torn disk, and damage to my SI joint. I missed the entire paddling season last year (except for a couple of mild day trips) and I don't want to miss this year!
I plan to paddle my 42lb Swift Kippawa with contoured seats, a foot brace, and kneeling thwart, my other boats are too heavy for me right now.
Any one else go through this? any suggestions for dealing with this?
 
Joined
Jul 25, 2012
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838
Hi Scout, This is serious stuff: Why don't you make a appointment with your back doctor and meet him in the parking lot of his clinic and show him just what you are thinking about doing. Lay down a blanket and set you canoe up on top of it. Perform a regular show and tell where he can see what your body needs to do to go paddling. He is the guy who ought to know, the rest of us here would be just shooting in the dark to give advice.

Good luck,
Rob
 
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I'm lucky in that my Dr. is pretty active and canoes and kayaks himself. He's got a pretty good idea of what's involved but he considers himself a novice, and hasn't paddled with a back injury.
It was actually his idea to ask as he figures that there are others in the same boat out there that can offer practical advice. Any ideas will definitely be discussed with both him and my physio team
 
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Back band

Back band

For seated paddling a back band may help. I have a blown L2/L3 disc and am uncomfortable sitting without some lower back support.

I use a Surf to Summit Performance back band:

http://www.surftosummit.com/performance-back-band-p-1657.html?cPath=283_271

The back band has four webbing straps, with two pulling forward and two pulling backwards, so the position is easily adjustable and the back band, once adjusted, stays in place without flopping around.

The installation is easy and the back band can be moved from one boat to another with minimal outfitting. It is low enough that it doesn’t interfere with torso rotation or paddle strokes and can be tensioned as desired.

Some of the Placid canoes come with that same back band, and I have guide friends who spend much of the year in their boats who use them as well.

Your back issues may differ, but I literally could not paddle for any distance or time without one.
 
Joined
Sep 2, 2011
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Raymond, ME
You mention kneeling thwart. I suppose that means that you can kneel. Does kneeling on a carpeted floor give your back ajida? Yes your hips have to be supported with a thwart or a seat that you brace against.

I don't know for how long you can kneel. It takes time to endure it for long periods, say hours. I have several friends with back issues of various types and for them kneeling with hip support is the key to getting out there. One has two spinal fusions and several compression fractures.. His doc says he is a young person (70) with the back of a centenarian.. He cannot lift more than 30 lbs. But can paddle kneeling all day.

Not knowing your specifics and not being a spinal specialist all I can do is suggest. Can you sit in a seat? My back kills me in a kayak without the backband that Mike uses. With it its OK. I just have an inflexible back. The types of seat can be as important as the support via a backband. I do get sciatica from a level webbed seat so I use a canted seat from Ed's Canoe. The height of the seat is critical for me as well as the angle. I see you have a contoured seat. Ed's contoured bucket seat is the only one that works for me. His regular contour seat does not. All this is meant to illustrate that you might have to go with some seat fiddling to find what is right for you.

If you are seated, I am glad to see you using a footbrace. Otherwise your back is fighting for you trying to keep you from sliding forward with each forward stroke. Seatedees, please note. Seated paddlers need footpegs or footbraces. Otherwise sooner or later your back will speak up with unhappiness.
 
Joined
Nov 23, 2012
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Western Adirondacks
I am not qualified to give medical advice, but this is what happened to me:
A few years ago I had been through a couple of years of terrible back pain, on and off. Any time I sat for a period of time it was extremely painful to stand up and walk at all, though the pain subsided somewhat after a dozen or so steps. Finally in the late summer of 2007 when I had an especially bad spell, I went to my family doctor, who sent me to a physical therapist. The young PT, Buffy, (her name resulting in some humor amongst my family and friends) examined me and said I had a displaced disk. Buffy gave me a number of floor exercises with rolled pads to try.

I had just been invited to bow paddle a voyageur canoe in the Yukon River Quest the following June, and of course I was very concerned with my condition and my ability to paddle 460 miles in that grueling race. I was very happy that Buffy said I could attempt a training program with my crew, and if I had no pain I could continue and it may well improve my back. That was great news. Between the exercises and the increasingly heavy paddling training, my pain went away. During the winter I spent many hours per week on a paddling machine and X-C skied. Apparently and thankfully, my displaced disk found its way back into proper position, and there it stays, leaving me pain free.

Ever since then I have canoed and trained hard and strong in many races, including not only the YRQ, but also in two Y1K races, as well as numerous races not so far away. I truly believe that proper paddling technique and extensive race training has kept me back pain free for the past 5 years. But again, (medical disclaimer) this is me and my condition. It may not apply to anyone else.
 
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Joined
Jul 31, 2011
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Aberdeen, MD
As another poster said, i'm no medical expert, but this is what happened to me:

I blew out my L5/S1 about 4 years ago... It still hurts once in awhile, but I discovered that it had little impact on my ability to canoe. I have always knelt in them, and my favorite canoe (a 1944 OT 15'-er) only has three thwarts and no seats. I have a hard time kneeling on a hard floor, but can stay kneeling in a canoe for about an hour before I need to shift positions. I also did a solo trip through the St Regis Canoe Wilderness about 2 years ago. I learned that as long as I'm using a double blade, I have no discomfort from the side-to-side motion of paddling. I also found that over the 4-day trip, my back seemed to get stronger and I had less and less trouble doing the numerous short portages (the two longer ones still sucked.)

(I still do my physical therapy exercises every day, and that helps too.)
 
Joined
Oct 12, 2012
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Alburnett Iowa
I have trouble with L5/S1 and also L1. I have had chronic back pain off and on since 2000. Paddling usually goes OK. It helps to switch positions slightly every 20 mins or so. I like to kneel with my rear against the seat. I just have to be careful how I load my back when carrying/ loading, unloading . I use a hammock to sleep in when camping, no way I could sleep on the ground any more with my back problems. I take a camp stool with back suport to sit on in camp. I just be careful. It doesn't take much to cause the back pain to snowball into trouble. When my back goes way south I can barely walk or get out of a chair. So at the first hint of trouble I take action ( recline to take the weight off, icyhot to loosen tight muscles, Ibuprofen). I have got out and had some great trips the last three years. I would suggest you work up to it if you are planning trips. And do your PT exercises. Good luck, Dave
 
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Aberdeen, MD
I forgot to mention that I carry two prescription meds for my back... I forget the names... the way my doc explained it, my spinal nerves got tired of being irritated, so they made the back muscles mad... the muscles spasmed in protest, further aggravating the nerves, resulting in a vicious hate-cycle that ended with me on my back... so my two meds are designed to 1) prevent the nerves from getting irritated and 2) relax the muscles if it happens. I carry a couple of each when i'm on a long trip, just in case.
 
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Aug 1, 2011
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Thanks guys; That's what I wanted to hear, MY L5/S1 has the tear, and my L2/3 has the rupture, Both in the left rear quadrant, and my left SI joint is damaged- I'm just waiting to hear back from the orthopedic back surgeon- he may want to fuse it (supposedly 30% of over 50's have naturally fused).
They're giving me the best care they can; I'm part of a pain and mobility study for one of the universities here, and getting all kinds of therapy based on the newest studies, one of the things we discussed was "real world" experiences.
You guys have given me some great info to take back, maybe they can use it to focus my rehab and get me on the water :)
 
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Double blade and back pain

Double blade and back pain

As another poster said, i'm no medical expert, but this is what happened to me:

I blew out my L5/S1 about 4 years ago…I learned that as long as I'm using a double blade, I have no discomfort from the side-to-side motion of paddling.

I realize that using a double blade in an open canoe is anathema to some, but that said, I know several paddlers with physiological issues, myself included, who turned to the double blade to alleviate pain and discomfort while paddling.

In addition to having a blown disc I mangled my right wrist many years ago and using a single blade will quickly aggravate that old injury. I now use a double blade 90% of the time and my wrist and back offer no complaints.

I don’t know what your usual go-to paddle is or was, but a double blade may help. If not a double blade then perhaps a single blade with less surface area to help reduce stress.

When you find a seated or kneeling position that doesn’t induce discomfort you may want to experiment with different paddles to see what is most tolerable.
 
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Illinois
Another real life example: I herniated a disc at age 43. I was a runner and enjoyed triathlons so taking it easy was hard but I did not want to make things worse. After a few years of the worst pain subsiding and having read everything and done the physical therapy I came across a US government article on chronic back pain. The government suggestion was to go back doing what you used to do but stop each time when the pain came. The first day out running the pain came back at the half mile point. The next day at more than a half mile. Within a month I was doing five miles. I only write this because others on the thread have alluded to the same strategy working for them. As Seeker has found out, you do not want to irritate a bad back. 20 years later and by sticking to a vigorous exercise regimen including both cardio and strength training the paddling and portaging are a pleasure. Please be cautious!
 
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I can't use a double as right now I can only rotate one way due to the pelvic injury (I solo Canadian style anyways) But I hadn't thought about using a narrow blade; I'll have to give my ottertail a try and see if I can handle the higher cadence!
 
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I'm sorry to hear of your injuries Scoutergriz, I hope you heal well. I've had to rely on physiotherapy for some different troubles, and consider them to be miracle workers. For Christmas this year, favourite daughter #1 gave me two gift certificates for two different therapy treatments - one physio and one massage. Or was that physio and acupuncture ? I guess I'd better figure THAT out before I go. Anyway, take care and take it slow. See you on the water some time.
 
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I can't use a double as right now I can only rotate one way due to the pelvic injury (I solo Canadian style anyways) But I hadn't thought about using a narrow blade; I'll have to give my ottertail a try and see if I can handle the higher cadence!

The ottertail has the same surface area as a Sugar Island. DO NOT paddle it at a higher cadence! High cadence paddles are carbon fiber paddles with short blades. Essentially they are almost square but with less surface area than the similarly shaped Sugar Island paddle.

Where the ottertail differs is in the distribution of the shape. Being narrow it transmits turning forces less than a wider blade. In the Freestyle world we work at a low cadence and want a paddle that makes every stroke count. Every go ahead stroke must be just so and then we angle the blade to transmit a force. Ottertails just don't work as well for that.

And that is GOOD news perhaps for your back and pelvis. You will spend less time fighting the torque that is found on the edges of a wide blade.

No higher cadence. Ottertails still call for a low cadence. Try inwater recoveries and see if that does not reduce the strain on your back.
 
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I am getting nausea reading this thread.

I herniated L4/5&S1 with an impingement to my nerve sending tinglies down my left leg. I use 800motrin and a muscle relaxer after I'm done for the day. A double paddle does make it easier. I can't sit in my kayak for more than 2 hours no matter what I do. In my canoe with a seat back is a MUST. I am about 90percent according to my DR. I can lift things but being in one position is my downfall at the moment.

Ramblings aside , take many breaks to get up and walk around just like the Doc says to do on long car trips. That's probably the best advice anyone could give IMHO anyways

Jason

I hope you can get through with out surgery. Good luck an feel better
 
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Ontario
Well, here's where I'm at; I've progressed to where I have 40 degrees forward flex, 12 degrees backwards, 80 degrees right torsion, and 45degrees left torsion, and that's as good as I can expect.
Double-blading is out, but I can get 84lbs pull on the right, and 61 on the left (the physiotherapist has a paddling machine with weights) so that's doable for all but heavy water (no posts or cross-bows, but low braces are ok)
the combo we came up with is to cant the seat another 5 degrees (17degrees total) use the toe brace, and a kayaking back band for support.
I'm also getting weekly nerve blockers in the back and hip to break the cycle of pain, causing inflammation, causing pain, etc. etc.and have been told to try a day trip. If that goes well try a light weekend trip, then go from there.
Thanks for the help, and here's hoping!
 
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It sounds like you’ve recovered some mobility just in time for spring. That’s great news. I hope your day paddles turn into weekenders this summer.
Take care.
 
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I'm sure sad to hear of your injury but I am encouraged by your progress. I am a surgical assistant and I have a tri-level fusion of my lumbar area so I have seen this type injury from both perspectives of the operating table. My recovery was so complete that a few years later I had the privilege to go on a 3000 mile backpacking trip. I ended up with Lyme disease and it seemed that no sooner was that cured than I developed Psoriatic Arthritis. This has caused inflammation in my back and quite a bit of pain. All this is just to say that canoeing has been my way back into the woods and wilds. I'm so glad that you have not given up on your paddling trips. You seem to have come to terms with the fact that you will have to make changes and concessions in your tripping style and that is the first and biggest stumbling block in your path. That was very hard for me to admit to myself. I finally came to the realization that I could sit at home in a funk, dreaming of the outdoors and the day I would be whole again or I could swallow my pride and decide that I was going back into the woods no matter how I had to do it or what others thought of how I looked while I was doing it.
My legs go to sleep very easily now when I sit in my canoe and my back hurts in a short amount of time. I find that if I switch back and forth from sitting and kneeling as I paddle I can manage pretty well. I am considering a portable saddle (the Stinger if I recall correctly) that will allow me to kneel in a supported position. Kneeling relieves my back pain even better than a seat back. I sleep in a hammock most of the time when I camp. I am also comfortable on an air mattress (thicker is better). The trick with them is to lie on your back and let the air out slowly until your butt just starts to touch the ground. It will contour completely to your body and is wonderfully soft and supportive. The problem I have with sleeping on the ground is getting up in the morning from such a low position. I guess I could bring a cot to put it on since I don't have to carry it on my back. It would make setting up a mosquito net a lot easier. I don't use a tent; just a tarp and netting. I can set the tarp up high enough that I don't have to bend down as much to get inside. Just a few suggestions that have helped me adapt that may or may not help others. Oh, I almost forgot...the pee jug. I cannot get up out of a camp bed multiple times a night to relieve myself and still be able to get up in the morning, break camp, and paddle away. Also, I don't like the idea of being eaten alive by mosquitos or giving them the opportunity to get into my sleeping area. Seriously, it makes a huge difference for me. It seems that no matter how much I drink during a day of paddling I still get dehydrated. I really feel it in camp especially around supper time and afterwards. This leads me to drink lots of water before bed so I don't start the next day half a quart low with a headache to boot. This also leads to a full bladder several times a night. And before someone thinks this is a male-only solution; I know several women who use pee bottles in their tents at night to avoid going out in the cold and/or bugs. For the record...I don't know exactly how this is done only that it is done!
Anyhoo, I'm glad you are doing so much better and can't wait to hear you are back on the water!
 
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Hey, Driftwood;
I'll let you know how the mods work out- tilting my seat forward should stop the numbness, and the foot brace (toe brace really) should allow me to vary the pressure on my legs.
I'll keep everyone posted- the physio says stuff like this is getting more common as we age!
 
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