Rowing Injuries


Participation in the sport of rowing has been steadily increasing in recent decades, yet few studies address the specific injuries incurred. This article reviews the most common injuries described in the literature, including musculoskeletal problems in the lower back, ribs, shoulder, wrist and knee. A review of basic rowing physiology and equipment is included, along with a description of the mechanics of the rowing stroke. This information is necessary in order to make an accurate diagnosis and treatment protocol for these injuries, which are mainly chronic in nature.

The most frequently injured region is the low back, mainly due to excessive hyperflexion and twisting, and can include specific injuries such as spondylolysis, sacroiliac joint dysfunction and disc herniation. Rib stress fractures account for the most time lost from on-water training and competition. Although theories abound for the mechanism of injury, the exact aetiology of rib stress fractures remains unknown. Other injuries discussed within, which are specific to ribs, include costochondritis, costovertebral joint subluxation and intercostal muscle strains. Shoulder pain is quite common in rowers and can be the result of overuse, poor technique, or tension in the upper body. Injuries concerning the forearm and wrist are also common, and can include exertional compartment syndrome, lateral epicondylitis, deQuervain’s and intersection syndrome, and tenosynovitis of the wrist extensors. In the lower body, the major injuries reported include generalised patellofemoral pain due to abnormal patellar tracking, and iliotibial band friction syndrome. Lastly, dermatological issues, such as blisters and abrasions, and miscellaneous issues, such as environmental concerns and the female athlete triad, are also included in this article.

Pathophysiology, mechanism of injury, assessment and management strategies are outlined in the text for each injury, with special attention given to ways to correct biomechanical or equipment problems specific to rowing. By gaining an understanding of basic rowing biomechanics and training habits, the physician and/or healthcare provider will be better equipped to treat and prevent injuries in the rowing population.

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Jane S. Rumball is a member of the Canadian National Rowing Team. Stephen Di Ciacca and Karen Orlando are physiotherapists for the Canadian National Rowing team, and Dr Constance M. Lebrun is a physician for Rowing Canada Aviron. No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review. The authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.

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Correspondence to Jane S. Rumball.

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Rumball, J.S., Lebrun, C.M., Di Ciacca, S.R. et al. Rowing Injuries. Sports Med 35, 537–555 (2005).

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  • Tenosynovitis
  • Spondylolysis
  • Lateral Epicondylitis
  • Inspiratory Muscle Training
  • Lumbar Flexion