Painful Numb Legs when kayaking 2 – exercises

July 24, 2013 | By More

Eoin O Conaire in his K1

I have had lots of requests to follow my previous blog about painful numb legs when kayaking with further detail and information on specific exercises to help the problem. In fact I have even had quite a few emails from people on the verge of giving up canoeing or selling their kayak! I would like to reassure people that this problem is curable but that it takes quite a bit of dedication to regularly carry out exercises.


As a physiotherapist I specialise in assessing an individual’s musculoskeletal system and then prescribing a custom exercise programme tailored to their needs. Therefore there is no one “cure-all” exercise programme that I can post here. In fact doing so could be dangerous for some people – particularly those with a history of back problems, sciatica, disc prolapses etc. However I have thought carefully about this and would like to give some basic guidance and exercises that will help the majority of people with this problem. However the best advice is to see your local chartered physiotherapist for assessment and treatment.


As detailed in the previous post the development of pain, numbness and “dead legs” when kayaking is almost always related to your sitting position in the boat causing tension, stress or compression on the sciatic nerve and its branches which run all the way from the low back to the soles of the feet. The following usually helps this problem


1)    Mobilising the sciatic nerve

2)    Stretching the hamstrings and calf muscles

3)    Stretching the gluteals

4)    Improving sitting position in your boat – so that you can sit in a more upright position

5)    Improving paddling mechanics – with particular attention to pushing harder with your feet i.e. the leg-drive component of paddling


The video below demonstrates a method for mobilising the sciatic nerve. Apologies for the poor quality but it is taken with my phone and is my first You Tube upload! I hope you like the wobbly art house documentary filming style. Again, I would like to stress that this exercise should not be carried out if you have a history of low back pain, disc problems or sciatica and even if you have no history of these problems should be done gently and carefully. The key is to make very gradual improvements in the length of the tissue. As you will see from the video, you sit with your feet wedged against a wall, your knees straight and your trunk slumped forward. You nod your head forwards (about seven times works well) and this will tug gently on the nerve tissue. You then rest briefly by looking upwards and repeat the process – reaching a tiny bit further each time. Carry out about 9 or 10 sets of 7 nods. Then follow this with the next exercise outlined below.

Sciatic nerve mobilisation

This exercise is a classic yoga pose called “Downward Facing Dog”. You can find it all over the internet and You Tube – usually being demonstrated by supple, flexible yoga teachers! It is perhaps more realistic to see it demonstrated by me – stiff, inflexible kayaking physio guy. In fact when I first started doing this exercise, I couldn’t get near the floor with my hands. Again the key to this exercise is to gradually build up the flexibility over a period of weeks. “Listen to your body” and don’t push things too far but do enough to make a difference to the tissues. If you are very tight then use a step or a thick book to rest your hands on and hold for about 25 – 30 seconds and feel all of the tissues on the backs of your legs getting a great stretch. Repeat three times.

Downward-Facing Dog yoga pose

Perform both of these exercises twice per day and within a few weeks you should find that the numbness is taking longer to come on or disappearing altogether.

Not wanting to sound like a broken record but these two exercises are the most general exercises for helping this problem but a physiotherapy assessment would enable a more tailored approach to improving your flexibility and paddling position.

Unfortunately because of spammers I have had to close the comments on my blog posts. However if you are a real person and not advertising shoes and handbags and would like to get in touch with me then use the contact me tab on my website.

    Category: Uncategorized

    Comments are closed.