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Posted by on Sep 16, 2013

Surfing Back Pain – Not so Manly  ©

Surfing Back Pain – Not so Manly ©


Would you knowingly set yourself up for a wipeout?
We’re not talking about doing it  for the opportunity of a great wave, nor for a cool photo opportunity…
No, just setting yourself up for a painful hammering that will take you out of surfing (for at least 6 weeks) and stop you from enjoying your daily work and social activities.  You wouldn’t do it.  But this is the type of wipeout that happens to a lot of surfers…

Lower back or lumbar spine injuries are surprisingly common for Manly Beach surfers.

There is NOTHING cool about a dodgy back that makes you weaker than a sick kitten and keeps you out of the waves for weeks on end.

Surfing back injuries are usually ‘insidious’.
That means they sneak up over time due to postural imbalances, previous trauma and bad movement patterns.  All these factors lead to damage of the spinal joints and supporting muscles.  This can irritate nerves leading to further problems in the hips and lower limbs.

Such injuries often occur during normal everyday surfing movements.
You might be just standing up as you catch a wave or even just putting your surfboard onto the car and suddenly, ‘twang’.  Perhaps you’ve noticed an annoying niggle whilst paddling out, or waiting in the line-up.  That niggle is a warning sign to get it sorted asap, BEFORE trouble strikes.  A lot of surfers end up with a back tweak whilst enjoying that last wave of the day. But it’s rarely the last wave of the day that causes the back problem…


The lower back or lumbar spine is vulnerable for surfers.

This is because it is located between two stable structures – the ribcage and the large bones of the pelvis.  If the pelvis and ribcage lack flexibility and correct posture then the lumbar spine has to deal with extra load and movement which can cause injuries.

Your lower spine isn’t naturally weak.  It becomes stressed and fragile because we sit in chairs, drive cars or perform repetitive stressful tasks with bad movement patterns all day.  These things lead to short tight psoas muscles at the front of the hips, weak butt muscles and a lack of spine stability.  The imbalanced loading results in postures with names like “lower cross syndrome” or “sway back”.


Surfing injuries cause inflammation, spasm, stiffness and a whole lot of back pain.
If not dealt with quickly you may be unfortunate enough to set-up a chronic situation.  This can result in a fragile ‘bad back’ with regular annoying episodes of discomfort.

Surfing occurs in a natural fluid environment.
Riding a wave involves many complex, full body movements which are often fast and powerful.  It’s a healthy activity IF your posture and movement patterns are also balanced and healthy.  You want to ensure that your body is also fluid and able to move in a controlled safe manner through its full range of motion.

Imbalances in your spine can even become a problem when you are simply arching your chest up off your board to paddle.  This is particularly so when your spine fatigues and loses stability during a long session in the waves.  Prolonged postures like arching the lower back when lying on your board may even lead to a rare but serious condition called Surfer’s Myelopathy.  This has left at least one surfer paraplegic.

The best strategy to avoid lower back injuries from surfing is to maintain a balanced structure and a correctly functioning nerve system.  If you address the three areas mentioned below you can minimise surfing induced lower back problems.

These exercises take less than 5 minutes.  They strengthen muscles, remove tension imbalances, and train the nerve system for correct muscle activation.  Safe, healthy movement patterns and coordination require nerve system clarity. The added bonus is an improvement in your surfing performance.

Light Touch Chiropractic’s 3 steps to avoiding surfers back pain.

1)    Open the front of your hips.
The hip flexors are muscles at the front of your hips, they lift your thigh up.  When tight they stress your spine.
Perform a lunge stretch to lengthen the muscles at the front of the hips.  These muscles actually attach into the lumbar spine vertebrae, so tight hip flexors can cause a lot of unnecessary load on the lower back.   Spend a couple of minutes performing lunges as shown.

manly chiropractic surfing backpain lunge

Squeeze your butt and push the hip forward (don’t arch your lower back).  Keep your abdominals tight and hold for 30 seconds on each side.

2)   Strengthen your butt muscles (glutes).
Correctly functioning glutes balance the pelvis and help reduce load on the lumbar spine when paddling on your board and launching on a wave.  They also help reduce hamstring tightness.  Perform hip raises, using your butt muscles to lift your hips up off the ground as shown.

manly chiropractic surfing backpain glute exercise

Keep your feet as close to your butt as possible.  Try for 5-10 reps, raising up as high as you can without arching your lower back (keep your abdominals tight).   Then progress to 3 sets of 15 strict reps.  Really squeeze your butt at the top position and hold for 3 seconds.

3)    Learn to engage your core.
Forget about crunch sit-ups and sixpack training.  You need to strengthen your transverse  abdominis and oblique muscles.  The best exercise for this is the “Dead bug”.  These look easy but if you do them strictly and lock your torso so it doesn’t move, you will find they are tough and help engage your core to protect your spine.  Perform as shown below.  If your torso moves or your hip drops you aren’t being strict enough, the aim is to lock the torso.

manly chiropractor surfing backpain core exercise

Start with the opposite arm and leg extended.  Then bring the hand and knee together, whilst locking the torso using your core muscles.  Try for 5-10 STRICT repetitions on each side.

If you do sustain a back injury it is best to have it treated asap.  Apply ice, not heat, to the affected area.  Try to stay mobile BUT rest it from excessive movement.  Then seek professional care.  When it comes to back injuries the saying “prevention is better than a cure” rings very true.  If you do notice tightness, weakness or any little niggle in your spine come on in and get it looked at BEFORE you develop a back injury.

Enquire about the fantastic VIP rates that Light Touch Chiropractic is offering to members of selected Surf Clubs.  Get some insurance against back injuries and start a good habit of spine maintenance BEFORE it becomes a problem.  Avoid back injuries, feel better, and surf with greater ease.  Enjoy your true health potential, visit Light Touch Chiropractic.



Dr Andrew Maher

MChiro  BScChiro  BTechEng  CertIV Fitness

[ Tags: Manly Chiropractor  ]



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