Topic: How Stand Up Paddle Boards are Saving People from Low Back Pain
Authour: Adam Brown, Cornerstone Physiotherapy
Every morning at the cottage I get out of bed and head straight to the water, grab my SUP and go for a long paddle. I start out slow, taking in the beauty of Muskoka and the feeling of gliding across the morning glass. As my head clears from last nights sleep, I slowly ramp up the pace and by then end of my morning ritual I have gotten a great workout in the splendour of nature. As an athlete and nature enthusiast, stand up paddle boarding has quickly become my favorite way to build a workout into my summer day. As an advanced practice physiotherapist with a focus on spinal pain, it has also become a frequent recommendation on how to build a stronger and healthier spine for my patients who suffer from low back pain. Let me break down the reasons why SUP’s are such a great way to treat your back pain.
As the name suggests, you are in a standing position. Most people with low back pain feel better when they are on their feet and need to do activities that avoid lots of forward spinal flexion. Compared with the alternatives of canoeing, kayaking or rowing which all involve applying force with the spine flexed, (a risky proposition for those with disc pain), SUP’s allow you to maintain a comfortable upright posture and use your muscles to stabilize your spine in this ideal position.
Balance and Proprioception Training
One of the primary goals of treatment is to improve balance and proprioception around the spine and hips. Proprioception is defined as perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body. People who have suffered from low back pain have been shown to have a decrease in their ability to sense their own spinal positions and movements. The good news is that this can be rehabilitated. We often do this in our clinical environments by having the patient perform exercises on unstable surfaces like wobble boards, physio balls or bosu balls. I can think of no better way to train your proprioception than to stand and paddle an SUP. The minor but prolonged challenge to your balance and attention to your body's position is excellent rehabilitation.
Core Strength and Endurance
It does not take long after you get on that board before you realize that this is going to be a core workout. Applying force to the water through the long lever of an SUP paddle causes all of the muscles surrounding your spine and hips to contract to stabilize your body. The sheer volume of muscle involved is staggering and there are few activities that come even close. We know that a strong core with good endurance helps people who have suffered from back pain to have fewer and less intense painful episodes, making a daily paddle a no brainer.
Many people with serious back problems have to avoid activities with higher impact, such as those involving running or jumping. Gliding across a glassy lake is about as low impact as you can get. The lack of a ‘foot strike’ means that the joints of your spine do not have to deal with rapid spikes in pressure. This is why for many back pain sufferers stand up paddle boarding is more easily tolerated than most other fitness activities.
If you have not tried it, you owe it to yourself to get out on the water. It can be a serene experience or an intense workout, it is up to you. Fair warning….it is a lot of fun and it will not be long before you’ll want to paddle every day!
Adam Brown is a Founder and Director of Cornerstone Physiotherapy. With three clinics serving the Greater Toronto Area, they are an excellent resource for people who need some help to live pain-free active lives! Learn more about Cornerstone Physiotherapy at www.cornerstonephysio.com