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The relationship between rowing-related low back pain and rowing biomechanics: a systematic review


Background Low back pain (LBP) is common in rowers. Understanding rowing biomechanics may help facilitate prevention and improve rehabilitation.

Objectives To define the kinematics and muscle activity of rowers and to compare with rowers with current or LBP history.

Design Systematic review.

Data sources EMBASE, MEDLINE, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Web of Science and Scopus from inception to December 2019. Grey literature was searched.

Study eligibility criteria Experimental and non-experimental designs.

Methods Primary outcomes were kinematics and muscle activity. Modified Quality Index (QI) checklist was used.

Results 22 studies were included (429 participants). Modified QI score had a mean of 16.7/28 points (range: 15–21). Thirteen studies investigated kinematics and nine investigated muscle activity. Rowers without LBP (‘healthy’) have distinct kinematics (neutral or anterior pelvic rotation at the catch, greater hip range of motion, flatter low back spinal position at the finish) and muscle activity (trunk extensor dominant with less flexor activity). Rowers with LBP had relatively greater posterior pelvic rotation at the catch, greater hip extension at the finish and less efficient trunk muscle activity. In both groups fatigue results in increased lumbar spine flexion at the catch, which is greater on the ergometer. There is insufficient evidence to recommend one ergometer type (fixed vs dynamic) over the other to avoid LBP. Trunk asymmetries are not associated with LBP in rowers.

Conclusion Improving clinicians’ and coaches’ understanding of safe and effective rowing biomechanics, particularly of the spine, pelvis and hips may be an important strategy in reducing incidence and burden of LBP.

  • lumbar spine
  • pelvis
  • sports rehabilitation programs
  • rowing

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