Surfing with Back Pain is Your Worst Enemy: 7 Ways to Defeat It

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Summer is on the horizon and some of us are itching to get back on our boards and into the waves. If you're a surfer, however, you've probably experienced a fair bit of back pain as a result. It can certainly put a damper on things, especially if it prevents you from surfing as much as you'd like.

For surfers, back pain can be your worst enemy. But the good news is, by working with a physio and employing some exercises and stretches, you can defeat your surfing-related back pain this summer.

Common Causes of Back Pain in Surfing

It's incredibly common for surfers to experience back pain. It makes sense, all the paddling in a prone position can wreak havoc, especially on your lower back and many surfers come to a physiotherapist to help them with just that.

Although you might not acutely injure your back as a surfer, most surfer back injuries cause chronic pain. The most common causes of back pain among surfers include:

  • Extended periods spent in a prone position (paddling)
  • Too much lumbar (lower back) extension or mobility
  • Poor thoracic (mid-back) mobility
  • Explosive turning and twisting movements
  • Poor core stability
  • Poor technique during the “pop up” from paddling to surfing
  • Poor flexibility and range of motion

These causes tend to occur from the two major aspects of surfing: paddling and the “pop up.”

If your upper back isn't strong and mobile, all the pressure from arching your back in order to paddle will be dumped into your lower back. This causes a lot of chronic lower back pain. Working on your core strength can also combat this.

Poor overall flexibility, range of motion, and strength can also affect your “pop up” technique. When you quickly go from lying down to standing, explosive movements can cause more acute injuries like tears or pulled muscles in your back.

Therefore, when doing exercises and stretches to manage your back pain as a surfer, you'll want to focus on your paddling technique and “pop up” technique.

Exercises and Stretches to Manage Back Pain

To help surfers manage their back pain, you'll want to focus on your upper back strength, core strength, and overall mobility and flexibility. Here are a few exercises and stretches surfers can use.

Pelvic Tilts

Pelvic tilts help you learn to activate your lower core muscles so that you're not over-arching your lower back while paddling. It essentially counteracts the arching movement surfers often find themselves doing, causing their lower back pain.

  • Lie on your back with both feet flat on the floor, knees bent and facing the sky.
  • Start in a relaxed position, then press your lower back firmly into the ground as you activate your core muscles and tilt your pelvis.
  • Hold for five seconds, return to the relaxed position, and repeat.

Source: Redefining Strength

Reclined Twist

This gentle, passive twist is amazing for releasing tension in your back after a long day of surfing.

  • Lie on your back and bring your knees into your chest.
  • Extend both arms out to either side and rest them on the floor.
  • Keep your core slightly engaged as you slowly release your knees to the left.
  • Once your legs reach the floor, begin to relax into the stretch, doing your best to keep your right shoulder on the ground.
  • Continue to breathe, holding the stretch. Then, repeat on the other side.

Source: Abi Carver

Child's Pose

If you've done yoga, you've probably done your fair share of child's pose, an amazing opener for the lower back.

  • Sitting on your knees, either tight together or knees wide, gently drape your upper body down over your legs, reaching the arms forward.
  • Keep breathing deeply. Doing so will add to the stretch in your lower back.
  • For more, walk your hands to the upper right-hand corner of the room and feel more of a stretch on your left lower back. Repeat on the other side.

Source: Rehab My Patient

Upper Back Extension Endurance

Other exercises to help you manage back pain as a surfer is to work with your physiotherapist on upper and mid-back extension endurance. By practising holding yourself up from your mid-back versus dumping all the pressure into your low back, you'll teach your body to activate these upper back muscles while you're surfing.

Supermans and other thoracic strengthening exercises are key to managing lower back pain as a result of surfing.

Source: TpindellFitness

Deep Core Exercises

In addition to focusing on the upper back, surfers should practice focusing on those deep abdominal muscles. Work with your physio who can point you in the right direction. The idea is to strengthen the muscles closer to your back (which many people overlook as also part of your “core”).

Instead of doing tonnes of sit-ups for you “six-pack” muscles, simply learning to activate your deeper core muscles will do wonders in protecting your lower back from too much strain.

Source: Coach Sofia

Knee “Pop Up” Method

Especially if you're newer to surfing or you're experiencing particularly brutal back pain, it could be valuable to try the knee “pop up” method. Even if you only do so while working on your upper/mid-back and core strength, knowing how to do this method will come in handy so that you'll still be able to surf even with slight discomfort.

Basically, instead of doing the traditional “pop up” method where you go from lying down to on your feet, you go from lying down, to on your knees, to on your feet. Stopping midway on your knees will prevent your lower back from taking on too much pressure.

Source: magicseaweed

Other Useful Resources

8 exercise that will transform your surfing this summer

Physiotherapy Treatment for Surfers with Back Pain

One of the absolute best ways to defeat back pain caused by surfing is to work with a sports physiotherapist or a mobile physiotherapist. They'll be able to assess the issue, narrow down the causes, and provide a treatment plan to get you back in the waves pain-free.

Your physiotherapist will assess:

  • Tight or weakened areas of the body
  • Posture
  • Core strength
  • Movement patterns and habits
  • Flexibility, strength, and coordination

From there, you'll receive a personalised treatment plan with both strengthening and flexibility exercises to help improve your surfing back pain.

Ready to say goodbye to surfer back pain once and for all? Our expert sports physiotherapists & mobile physiotherapists are here to get you back on your surfboard pain-free.

Call us today to set up an appointment.

This article was originally written by Jonathan Moody from Physio Inq

Share the article