Back Pain in Rowers

Prevalence of Low Back Pain in Rowing: Scull vs Sweep

Funded by contribution from MSc Applied Sports and Exercise Medicine Course

Principal Investigator:    Assistant Prof Dr Joanne Stocks
Co-Investigators:            Rushil Khulge 

The first wave of analysis will begin after 1st July 2020. The questionnaire will remain open until the end of September 2020.

If you would like to help with our research, please complete this 5-minute questionnaire at

Rowers rowing on the river

Over the summer of 2020 we are undertaking a new study to improve understanding of low back pain in rowers. In particular we aim to investigate the different prevalence of low back pain between scullers and sweep rowers whilst also identifying factors which could help to predict low back pain developing in athletes.

Rushil Khulge, is carrying out the study as part of his MSc in Sports and Exercise Medicine. Having worked as a physiotherapist with the Indian national rowing team, 70% of the injuries Rushil encountered were low back pain cases, which significantly deteriorated the performance and increased time away from training.

Scull v Sweep differences

Thanks to the high physical demands on the body, a rower’s back, especially the lumbar spine, is at risk of numerous injuries. Many movements are occurring at the spine during different phases of rowing. In scull rowing, the lumbar spine extends repetitively. Whereas in sweep rowing, lumbar extension is coupled with spinal rotation which increases the compressive and shear forces at the lumbar spine.

A recent study of Italian rowers suggested that all rowers complain of low back pain at least once in their rowing career and also found that over 40% reported low back pain during the past year. There are around 28,000 competitive rowers in the UK and if similar levels of injury are experienced, then almost 11,000 British rowers are at risk of developing low back pain each year.

Repetitive motions

Rowing involves continuous repetitive motion of various joints in the body. Most injuries in rowing are chronic and overuse injuries occurring mainly due to the mechanical stress during the stroke cycle. Overuse injuries in rowing can occur due to a change in training load, change in the technique of rowing or the type of rowing.

With these repetitive movements, high compressive and shear forces are applied each time the rowing stroke is performed. This predisposes the rower to various overuse injuries affecting the knees, back, ribs, wrists and shoulders.

Rowers need to understand the importance of staying injury-free to prevent deterioration of their performance.

Rowers competing at all levels are encouraged to complete and share the 5-minute survey .

Twitter logo

Follow @Rowing_study on Twitter to keep upto date with the study’s results.