Boating and Your Back
As a girl who grew up next to a fishing village in Nova Scotia and ended up living on the
Gulf Coast of Florida, I have seen a lot of injured fisherman and boaters over the years.
Back problems were not rare and for probably 50% of the time, a back injury is what
makes a fisherman hang up his tackle. But what about after surgery?
Anyone who has ever been out on a boat, be it a fishing boat, a pleasure craft, or a
racing boat, knows what it is like. On a calm day the ride is smooth, you can go fast, and
everyone sits comfortably in their seats. I swear that’s why people get up ridiculously early
to fish; to take advantage of the morning calm.
What happens most of the time though, is that the minute you add some speed to a boat
in normal waters, there is a pounding that sooner or later, you feel in your spine. Any
type of wave or wake will lift the boat up and drop it. Not for the post-op neck or back patient.
Of course, when you go back on the water should depend on many things. What type of
surgery did you have, neck or back, discectomy or fusion? What kind of shape were you
in before surgery? Do you have strong abdominal muscles? Do you know who is driving
this boat and will they slow down if you are having pain?
As we know from previous blogs, core strength is one of the most important things in
maintaining a strong back. It is especially important for boaters and fisherman, for
keeping balance, loading and unloading and of course for catching the big one.
A guideline is always helpful in these situations, so…
Neck and back fusions– bones are usually on their way to fusion by 3 months. Unless
you are traveling as slow as a kayak, stay off the boat until then. Any pounding motion
will slow down fusion and may disrupt your instrumentation.
Lumbar discectomies– If the disc covering (annulus) is open from a herniation or a
discectomy, there is always a chance of more disc material coming out (re-herniation)
if the right forces are present. No boating until the annulus is healed. Usually 2-3 months,
depending on the size of the annular tear.
Lumbar decompressions – if the disc space is not open and only a small amount of bone
was removed, you can usually go back to short slow trips after about a month.
Also, use proper seating (low and in the stern), don’t go out by yourself, and if you
finally catch that big one, let someone else pull it in. You have only one spine, but there
are plenty of other fish in the sea.
- Tarabini M, Saggin B, Scaccabarozzi D. Whole-body vibration exposure in sport: four relevant cases. Ergonomics. 2015;58(7):1143-50. PubMed PMID: 25267689