Kayaking: Minimize the Aches & Pains

7-minute read + 13-minute video

One of the most wonderful things about kayaking—and all paddle sports, really—is that it’s easier on our body than many outdoor activities. But the aches and pains do come sometimes, so how can we minimize them?

woman kayaking in a red kayak

(Photo courtesy of Blazin’ Paddles)

We have a couple of resources for you that are very informative and cover the topic from different angles.

First, Paddling.com hosts an article on this topic by Gregg Jackson. The comments from readers add a lot of great suggestions, too. 

We’ve condensed Gregg’s main points to give you a brief overview (you can read his full article here), and then added in a few comments of our own:

1. Choose Your Paddle Wisely

Even a few extra ounces adds extra strain on your joints and muscles over several hours or a multi-day trip. We always suggest you buy the lightest paddle your budget allows. And be sure yours is the correct length for you and your kayak.

Paddles made from carbon are the lightest and also perform the best. They’re pricey, though. If you need an option easier on your budget, consider a “hybrid” model that’s a combination of carbon and fiberglass. Examples are our Sting or Manta Ray Hybrids or our Tango or Whiskey Fiberglass.

2. Keep Your Grip Light

You don’t need to clench onto your paddle in most conditions. In fact, if you do you’re putting unnecessary strain on your hands and arms. Keep your grip light and relaxed and you’ll help prevent issues like carpal tunnel syndrome, and even annoying blisters.

3. Use a good seat

All seats are not created equal. You want one that’s supportive and comfortable. The lower-priced kayaks have cheap, often plastic seats with no padding at all. Generally, as kayak prices rise, so does seat quality. If you’ll be on the water for hours at a time, this is especially important.

4. Dress Appropriately

You don’t want sunburn. You don’t want to overheat or be chilled. You want your shoulders and arms to move freely. Be sure you have the appropriate gear if you kayak in cold weather and on cold water, which is a pretty major safety concern. A dunk in frigid water can mean hypothermia onset within a few minutes. If you plan to kayak in cold water often, waterproof paddling apparel is a must.

woman kayaking in a folding kayak on a river in the wilderness

(Photo courtesy of Forged in the Wild)

5. Consider Paddle Gloves

Consider paddle gloves, especially if you tend to get blisters and hotspots, or if you sunburn easily.

6. Protect Your Eyes

Protect your eyes with UV-blocking sunglasses. The glare on the water can be blinding. Read “Why You Need Polarized Sunglasses for Kayaking” for a lot more detail on this important gear item.

7. Don't Overdo It

Don’t overdo it right out of the gate. As with any physical activity, ease into it. If your plans include an all-day or multi-day kayak tour, prepare for it by going on shorter kayak trips beforehand.

8. Give Your Legs Room

Adjust the foot braces to the right length for your legs. Wear comfortable shoes (or take them off in the kayak in warm weather). Be sure you’re not cramped in too small of a kayak. Shift your position occasionally to give your seat, hips and legs a break.

9. Vary Your Paddle Stroke

Vary your paddle stroke between high-angle (more aggressive) and low-angle (more relaxed). Going hard for several hours when you’re not used to it is a great way to injure yourself at worst, or end up with stiff muscles at best.

10. Take Breaks

This is especially important if you’re going to be in your kayak for more than a couple hours. Stiffness sets in, so be smart about getting to shore and walking around every once in awhile. This is especially important if you tend to deal with back pain and stiffness.

11. Be Careful Getting In and Out of Your Kayak

If you enter and exit your kayak at a dock, consider tying it to the dock so it doesn’t get away from you and cause an injury. If bad knees or other ailments make it hard to get in and out of a sit-inside kayak, either choose one with a large cockpit or, better yet, choose a sit-in-top model.

man and woman kayaking next to each other

(Photo courtesy of Headwaters Kayak)

12. Stay in Shape

Kayaking is a physical activity. Stay fit and flexible all year with exercises, stretches and activities that work all your muscle groups. It’ll make your kayaking so much more enjoyable and you’ll be less likely to have stiff muscles for days afterwards.

13. Sit Properly and Paddle Properly

Your kayak's seat should allow you to sit up straight, not slouch. Good posture is important when you kayak, just like it is for every other activity.

When you paddle, use your core and upper body with each stroke, not just your arms and shoulders. Not only will this help prevent over-straining your shoulders, you’ll get more powerful and efficient paddle strokes when your entire torso is involved.

“Kayaking Without Pain” Video

The second resource we have for you is this video from Aqua Bound Ambassador, Ken Whiting:

14. Consider Using a Kayak Cart

Moving a 10-17 foot kayak to and from the water can be a real hassle, and sometimes cause injury if it’s too heavy for you. A kayak cart that’s designed for your type of kayak may be the answer.

Ken reviews a couple one-size-fits-all carts in the video that work for most kayaks.

15. Buy a Sit-on-Top Kayak

A hard time getting in or out of a kayak was already covered in #11. Ken spends more time discussing the virtues of a seat-on-top kayak. One of the biggest benefits is you sit on the boat, not in it.

Especially if you can start in the water, it’s just a matter of sliding your seat onto the kayak’s seat—no bending required.

16. Buy a Sit-on-Top Kayak with a Higher Seat

Some sit-on-tops have a height-adjustable seat. It’s even easier on your legs, knees and back if you can sit a bit higher off the kayak’s floor. You’ll have to pay more for a kayak like this, but if it means more comfort and less pain it’s worth it!

17. Make It Easy on Your Back

There are several things you can do to make kayaking easier on your back. First, stay flexible by stretching regularly. Second, strengthen your back with core exercises and plenty of walking. Third, as just mentioned, elevate the kayak’s seat a few inches above your heels. That will give your back some relief.

man kayaking in an orange kayak on a river

(Photo courtesy of @Go_Paddle)

18. Choose a Frame Seat and Lumbar Support

Another way to protect your back is to choose a kayak with a frame seat. It’s more adjustable and supportive than a molded seat. It’s possible to add lumbar support to your current kayak seat, too.

19. Use a Pedal Kayak

If you struggle with shoulder problems enough to limit your kayaking, but you still want to get out on the water, consider a pedal kayak. You’ll still need a paddle along for some situations, but most of your movement can be accomplished with your legs instead—assuming your legs and knees are in good shape!

Aqua-Bound’s Tango and Whiskey paddles come in bent shaft options. These are designed to be easier on your body if you’re a long-distance kayaker or if you want to kayak actively as you get older.

You don’t have to let aches and pains stop you from kayaking. You may need to make some adjustments, but you’ll be glad you did so you can keep at it into your older years.

Can we help you choose a kayak paddle? Contact our friendly Customer Service team today: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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