Preventing injury in the developing rower

GRowingBODIES are combining with Conny Draper, expert Rowing Biomechanist to present a 90 minute symposium on preventing injury in the young developing rower at this weeks 2018 World Rowing Sports Medicine and Science Conference in Berlin.

Our key messages are:

  • Preventing the first episode of low back pain is essential to reducing the prevalence of low back pain at the elite level of the sport
  • Low back pain is endemic in young growing rowers
  • Young male rowers need to be flexible and young female rowers need to have a strong trunk to prevent low back pain
  • Rib stress injury is a season stopping injury in developing young rowers and is under-represented in the current literature
  • Forearm pain in the developing rower is linked to technical, environmental and proximal chain contributors to increased grip force on the oar
  • Knee pain is more common in young than elite rower and can be present anteriorly or posteriorly [at the front or back of the knee]

We look forward to presenting a detailed overview of these topics and more on Thursday to the international rowing community.

How to effectively wash your hands

Hand washing is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of infections such as the common cold and gastro infections.

“Good” hand washing techniques include using an adequate amount of soap, rubbing the hands together to create friction, and rinsing under running water.

When there is no soap or water available, one alternative is to use hand sanitisers or waterless hand wash.

Hand washing education in a environments such as a rowing club or school:

  • Reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhoea by up to 40%
  • Reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds by up to 20%
  • Reduces absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 30 – 60%

Great demonstrations on how to wash your hands can be found at:

Stretching your quads for Rowing

There is no doubt that the most dominant muscles used for power through the rowing drive is the quadricep group, located on the front of the thigh.

When young rowers are growing, this muscle can get tight from use but also loses relative length as the long bones grow and the corresponding muscles take time to adapt.

As the name suggests, the quadriceps muscle group is made up of four muscles. One extends over the front of the hip joint and down to the knee cap (the longest muscle). The other 3 extend from further down the thigh bone into the knee cap (the short muscles).

The muscle running over the hip does not need to be flexible to row as it is relaxed over the hip and stretched over the knee at the catch. However, the other three muscles that extend from the thigh to the knee are on full stretch when the rower is compacted with a vertical shin position at the catch.

Rowers need to stretch these shorter muscles with the knee in front of the hip. A traditional quad stretch with the knee under the hip stretches the longer muscle and is less relevant for rowing.

We recommend the following stretches for the adolescent (& every) rower:

If you get knee pain in the seated stretch you should only do the standing stretch.

How can ankle flexibility increase a rowers risk of low back pain?

The foot stretcher angle or ‘rake’ is over 30 degrees in the rowing boat – this means that a rower needs a free and easy range of ankle dorsi-flexion to be able to get to the catch with a vertical shin position.

A lack of ankle dorsi-flexion (knee over toe) motion will result in the knee not being able to progress to be above the ankle.  The rower then needs to create stroke length by ‘over-reaching’ from the hips and low back, this often result in the low back having to move into a curved position and it is this flexed position that has been linked to an increased incidence of low back pain.

One strategy that rowers with a lack of dorsi-flexion use is to flatten our the foot plate or reduce the ‘rake’.  This can allow the knee to progress over the ankle and reduce the risk of over-reaching from the spine BUT this foot plate position is not as ideal for generating backwards force.  A flattened foot plate results in a backwards force that has a more upwards component and this is detrimental to performance and boat speed.

A lack of ankle dorsi-flexion can be a result of the ankle joint structure (unchangeable) or a lack of short calf muscle / soleus muscle length.  The length of the soleus muscle can be improve with long hold stretching.  perform the stretch below for 2 minutes once per day for 2 weeks.  This usually results in an improvement that can allow the rower to increase the ‘rake’.