Low Back Pain in Surfers

I can feel you rolling your eyes already. This old adage. We all hate it, we hate talking about it, we hate listening to others complain about it and we hate doing anything about it. It’s one of those things we've just become accustomed to. For a surfer, getting low back pain is just part of the parcel. The down side to spending hours throwing yourself into awkward positions, flying through the air and getting slammed into sand banks and your local reef.

As a health professional who deals with the dreaded low back pain on the daily, I am going to try to explain why surfers are so prone to this injury and what you can do to try prevent it…because no one likes a whinger, no matter how golden his locks or bronze his 6 pack.


One of the biggest reasons surfers are so prone to low back pain, is not actually from all the epic manoeuvres they’re attempting to pull off, but rather comes down to good old fashioned paddling. Paddling itself isn’t detrimental, but attempting to paddle when certain parts of your back are too stiff to allow proper movement, is. Let me break it down:

Your back consists of three main areas; 1) your upper back (neck), your mid back and your lower back. When you are paddling, your mid back is where you should be moving through to paddle. If this area is far too stiff, your lower back will most commonly take on the task. This puts more pressure through your low back than it is able to cope with which can result in spasm-ing muscles and pain.

FIX IT: Get more movement through your mid –back. Take regular breaks from your desk if you spend lots of time here. Get on a foam roller to get your spine moving more. Do lots of rotation exercises to free it up. See your amazing physio if you can’t quite free it up yourself just yet.


You know Chicken Joe from Surfs up? The dude who walks around with his tummy hanging forward, his butt sticking out (“duck-butt”), his mid back leaning wayyyy back and his head poking forward….well, I hate to say it, but try glimpse a profile of yourself next time you walk past the mirror. This may be a gross exaggeration of a surfers posture, but isn’t too far off, especially when it comes to the low back. Spending your waking hours with your butt sticking out and your lower back excessively arched lends toward a far higher likelihood of getting low back issues. Because you are never giving your low back any downtime, you’re practically spending every hour just hannnnggging off it. Not cool man.

FIX IT:…stay with me here….imagine you have a tail, and you have to tuck it between your legs – you’re doing it right now aren’t you….well, that takes you much closer to a better low back position that offloads it. Go forth, be the dog, not the duck. (ps, note this is an exaggerated move to get you OUT of the habit of being Chicken Joe. Once you've broken this habit, you no longer need to do this move)


Let’s be straight, how do you expect to pop up and shred like Kelly when you’re too tight to sit in a deep squat, or not strong enough to do a single leg squat. Mobility and strength play a huge role in making sure you use the correct parts of your body to pull off the moves you’re trying to pull off. If your gluts aren’t strong enough to throw some power behind your moves, you’re still going to attempt the move, but you’ll end up throwing your spine into the move = pain.

FIX IT: Get strong and get more flexible. Stretch out the hips and the gluts particularly and strengthen them too. Work on your balance and single leg strength work. Better yet, come see us at Stoke Physio and get flogged doing some surf-specific pilates! ;)

Living with low back pain is NOT normal. You shouldn’t have to put up with it, so don’t. You’re cooler than that.

Peace Homie.

Suffering from low back pain? Book in to see one of our physio's today! Book online here, or call us on (08) 9448 2994.

#physiotherapyperth #surfphysio #physiotherapy #physio #perthphysio #surf #surfing

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