All in a Row

Common Rowing Injuries

The majority or rowing injuries are secondary to overuse or overloading associated with poor mechanics during rowing, weight training, ergos and running. Any abrupt changes in training level, technique, or the type of boat rowed and a rapid increase in training volume mainly contribute to their occurrence

We can help get those niggles under control. Injuries occurring during the season need to be managed and controlled but its sometimes not until the Regattas are over that Athletes can truly address the biomechanical issues and overloaded joints and tendons.

The most common injuries we see are :

  • Hand and wrist
  • Forearm and elbow
  • Shoulder
  • Ribs
  • Hip
  • Knee
  • Low back



This commonly occurs in early spring with the return to high-intensity rowing in relatively cold weather. This condition is associated with pain, swelling, and crepitus with motion of the wrist. It can cause pain with rowing and other activities such as writing. It is generally caused by the repetitive force and irritation during the drive phase of the rowing stroke

Carpal tunnel

Nerve impingement at the wrist can also occur and can present as carpal tunnel syndrome with pins and needles in the hands.


Compartment syndrome

Exertional compartment syndrome can occur which is due to increased pressure in sections of the forearm due to training increasing the bulk of particular muscles in sections of the arm.


Lateral and medial epicondylitis

During contraction of the wrist or forearm muscles, tension is placed through the tendons. When this tension is excessive due to too much repetition or high force, damage to the tendons may occur. Lateral or medial epicondylitis occurs because of damage to the extensor or flexor tendons near their attachment to the epicondyles of the elbow.


Impingement syndrome

Constant use of the shoulders during rowing can lead to rotator cuff injuries, which may be acute or chronic and manifest themselves in shoulder pain and limited movement, especially lifting the shoulder up, forwards and sideways and reaching the hand up behind the back.

Shoulder instability

Tears to the labrum cartilage and over stretching of the shoulder ligaments are common shoulder injuries and can be caused by sustained overuse or wear of the shoulder joint. Such tears make the joint vulnerable to recurrent slipping, dislocation, and accompanying pain.


Stress fractures

Rib stress fractures, account for 10% of all rowing injuries. The most common site is at the junction of the middle and back one-third of the rib. Rib stress fractures generally occur during periods of intense training in the winter and early spring when rowers spend a significant amount of time on the rowing ergometer, with a low stroke rate and high load per stroke. There is theory that rib stress fractures in rowing is actually due to the repetitive rib cage compression.


Hip flexor tendonitis and/or snapping hip

Snapping Hip Syndrome (SHS) is another common injury in rowing. The most noticeable characteristic of SHS is a palpable or audible “snapping” sensation around the hip joint that may be painful or not painful. This is a common injury in rowing due to the seated and bilateral nature of the sport, resulting in chronically tight hip flexors that can lead to this injury.

Femoral acetabular impingement

Symptoms of FAI can come on after a specific trauma to the area, or it can have an insidious onset (no cause). The most common symptoms of FAI that people complain of include: restriction in hip range (particularly internal rotation and flexion), a jam or catch with hip flexion, an ache deep in the hip joint, difficulty sitting or standing for long periods, pain in and around the low back region


Patella maltracking

Patellofemoral pain generally presents with pain while ascending or descending stairs and a clicking sensation during rowing. Training activities such as squats and squat jumps will increase the pain. The abnormal tracking of the patella causes irritation to the surrounding structures of the knee which is continually aggravated by the repetitive flexion and extension motion of the knee during each rowing stroke.

Iliotibial band (ITB) friction syndrome is also fairly common in rowers. The ITB glides across the outside of the knee with knee bending. If the ITB is tight, it may result in inflammation and localized pain.

Low Back

For older rowers back pain is associated with ergometer pieces of greater than 30 minutes and lifting free weights. Young rowers often present with lower back pain that may radiate into the buttocks due to an injury to the lower back disc.

Lumbar disc

The combination of excessive hyperflexion and twisting during the rowing stroke, the repetitive nature of rowing training and large forces create the potential for injury to the lumbar spine structures, making rowers vulnerable to conditions such as spondylosis, sacroiliac joint dysfunction and disc herniation,

Stress fracture

A stress fracture is a break in the bone. However, rather than developing as a result of a specific acute event it comes on with repetitive stress and overuse that can be associated with certain sports like rowing .It starts as a weak area in the bone known as a "stress reaction" then progresses to a partial fracture . A lumbar spine stress fracture is often referred to as a “pars stress fracture” as the pars interarticularis is the name of the bone that fractures.

Muscle strain

Lower-back pain usually results from improper form. You want to avoid rounding in your back, so keep your chest open and your abdominal muscles engaged throughout the entire interval. Weak abdominal muscles can cause rowers to overcompensate in the lower spine, which can lead to lower back muscle pain.

Although these are the most common injuries we see, there are other problems that can arise by the repetitive high load nature of this sport. Many adolescents take up serious rowing training with young immature bodies and must be carefully guided through any injury process.

Recovery during the season is often hampered by the need and desire to continue training at all costs. Physiotherapy treatment can help you manage and settle overuse injuries to help you get the best out of your season.The off season is then generally a good time to further sort the issues out. Immediately after the seasons end is often useful when symptoms are still marked so the contributing factors can be assessed.

See one of our experienced and skilled physiotherapists for a thorough assessment of your injury and contributing factors.

Get immediate help for current problems and also ask about our Rowing stretching and strengthening core program to help you prepare for future seasons.

Request to see a Physio
Make an Appointment