Forearm pain from rowing


Rowing is a very popular sport in Perth and many sports people take it up at school or as an adult. The potential injuries are similar; our physiotherapists explain more below, please keep an eye out for our other blogs regarding other rowing injuries.

A common injury with rowing is forearm pain, often described as ‘cramping’ or ‘burning’ pain. It can be aggravated with long set pieces and racing. It can feel like you can’t grip the handles of the oar and when you finish rowing stiffness or locking and difficulty moving your wrists or fingers.

This is common in new rowers or if you’ve returned to rowing after a break, or a change in training regime and is most likely due to poor technique.

Causes of forearm pain can be due to too much tension in the arm, gripping too tight on the handles, pulling with the wrists and arms, the wrist being at an angle at the ‘catch’ or dropping the wrist, ‘feathering’ with both hands and a few other possible causes. It’s good to speak with your coaches for some feedback. Unfortunately if it is a technique issue and it’s habitual it can be frustrating, difficult to change and the symptoms may take a little longer to settle down.

Seeing a physiotherapist for an assessment and to treat the structures which are causing the pain is beneficial. The nerve lengths would need to be assessed and appropriate stretching could help with the burning pain. Soft tissue release of the tight fascia (connective tissue that surrounds muscles, blood vessels, and nerves), which could be contributing to the pain may also relieve symptoms. Stretches for the muscles of the forearm to perform before and after exercise would be issued and at times using ice after training sessions to relieve symptoms could help. A full physiotherapy assessment is also important to ensure that there are no other structures involved. Clearing the neck, shoulder and elbow of any contributing referred pain is important as compensatory patterns may have developed if training has continued through the symptoms. It is also important to take breaks or rest if the symptoms increase.

Serious cases could develop into compartment syndrome or carpal tunnel syndrome and in other cases, it may also develop into a “golfer’s elbow” or “tennis elbow” even though rowing is the cause.