Canoeing and Kayaking

01 Overview

Whether they take place on lakes, rivers, or oceans, kayaking and canoeing are popular among people of all ages. Both have been Olympic sports since the 1930s. National standards for paddling activities are established by Paddle Canada, and regionally by the Recreational Canoeing Association of BC. Most injuries occur while the paddler is in the boat, although some can occur after capsizing or while carrying the boat.

(see Section 04 - Prevention)
Athlete silhouette
View Common Injuries by clicking the blue dots on the silhouette

Common injuries include wrist tendinitis and hand blisters. Overuse injuries to the wrist joints and hands can occur due to repetitive motion.

Abrasions, cuts (lacerations), and bruises or contusions to the head can occur when out on the water. Head injuries can occur in whitewater kayaking when a kayak overturns and the head can strike a rock or other debris.

Shoulder injuries are common while paddling; this includes sprains, strains, and dislocation

Paddling long distances can result in inflammation of the tendon (acute tenosynovitis) in the forearm.

Paddlers can experience chronic low back pain.

Hip and leg injuries (cuts, bruises, scrapes, and fractures) are common injuries experienced after capsizing or while carrying the boat.

02 Injury Statistics

The most common injuries in paddling occur to the upper extremities, the head, the back/trunk, and the lower extremities.

The types of injuries suffered and the rate at which paddlers are injured are approximately the same for both males and females. On average, 23% of long-distance paddlers will develop inflammation of the tendon (acute tenosynovitis).

Curious about the research on injuries?

It is estimated that...

03 Risk Factors

Risk factors for injury when paddling include level of experience, technique, level of fitness, and training volume.

  • Water Conditions

    The risk of drowning is present with any water-based activity. Paddlers should be aware of fast-flowing or choppy water and high winds. Choosing an appropriate waterway is important as injuries are more likely to occur if a waterway is attempted that is beyond the skill level of the paddler.

    When paddling on the river, use the International Scale of River Difficulty to determine the difficulty of navigating a section of river; the higher the category (Class I to VI), the more dangerous the water.

    Consider the water level when choosing a location for paddling (high, medium, low). Medium water levels are of the highest risk for paddlers; novice paddlers should only paddle in low-level waters. Injuries can also occur when kayakers try to reverse their kayak while paddling in a whitewater river.

  • Level of Experience

    Beginners are at higher risk of injury due to lack of skill and technique. Boats can be tricky to steer and may be easy to tip over. Novice paddlers report a higher number of lower limb injuries as compared to more experienced paddlers, possibly due to the high number of capsizing incidents. Experienced paddlers sustain more chronic injuries.

  • Fitness Level

    A low level of fitness can result in repeat eccentric loading (putting a load on the muscle as the muscle is lengthening) of the forearm tendons. Higher fitness levels can decrease hyperextension of the wrist.

  • Weather and Temperature

    Hypothermia (a sudden, dangerously low body temperature) can occur if paddlers fall into cold water, particularly when they are not wearing a wetsuit. As paddling often takes place on open water, sunlight—both from overhead and reflecting off the water—can cause sunburn.

  • Technique

    Poor technique can lead to chronic shoulder injuries; for example, uneven movement can increase your risk of tissue damage. Holding the paddle incorrectly or having poor posture can put unnecessary strain on your joints, muscles, and ligaments. Proper training can decrease the risk of injury.

  • Training Volume

    Overtraining can lead to overuse and chronic injuries, particularly to the wrist and shoulder.

04 How can I prevent injury?

Some muscle soreness or joint pain is expected when increasing your level of physical activity. However, it is important to listen to your body for persistent or worsening pain, and to know when to rest. Learn more about how to prevent injuries when paddling.

  • Participant & Parent

    Talk to your coach or organization, if applicable, about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Incorporate balance and strength conditioning to reduce your risk of injury.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    Adopt strength training exercises designed to prevent injuries to the shoulder and back. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help reduce the risk of shoulder and back injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Get Set Neuromuscular Training
    The Get Set app contains exercises that can be done at home. Created by the Oslo Sports Trauma Center, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, and Making Waves AS in 2014 for the International Olympic Committee, the app allows you to search by body part to view exercises that work to strengthen each area of the body, or search by sport to view a library of exercises that are specific to canoeing.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Equipment
    Ensure you choose a suitable boat and paddle for your size and skill level. Paddlers should never go out on the water without wearing a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD). Other safety equipment can include wetsuits, dry suits and helmets. Ensure your skin is protected from sun damage by wearing suitable clothing and applying sunscreen with an SPF of no lower than 30.

    Conditions
    Choose paddling locations according to the desired level of activity. Avoid heat stress by paddling early in the morning or late in the afternoon, particularly in the summer.

    Skill Training
    Seek lessons to learn proper paddling techniques and safety protocols.

    Excursions

    • AdventureSmart is a national program providing information to keep you safe while participating in outdoor recreational activities. Learn more about boating safety.
    • The State Government of Victoria (Australia) has information on preventing injury when canoeing and kayaking

    Drowning Prevention
    Any water-based activity comes with the risk of drowning. Find out more about drowning prevention from:

    View the research evidence on drowning.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Competitive paddling sports are physically demanding and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Coach & Teacher

    Talk to your organization or school about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Incorporate balance and strength conditioning to reduce your risk of injury.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    Adopt strength training exercises designed to prevent injuries to the shoulder and back. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help keep the shoulder strong and reduce the risk of shoulder and back injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Get Set Neuromuscular Training
    The Get Set app contains exercises that can be done at home. Created by the Oslo Sports Trauma Center, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, and Making Waves AS in 2014 for the International Olympic Committee, the app allows you to search by body part to view exercises that work to strengthen each area of the body, or search by sport to view a library of exercises that are specific to canoeing.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Equipment
    Ensure participants have suitable boats and paddles for their size and skill level. Paddlers should never go out on the water without wearing a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD). Other safety equipment can include wetsuits, dry suits and helmets. Ensure skin is protected from sun damage by wearing suitable clothing and applying sunscreen with an SPF of no lower than 30.

    Conditions
    Choose paddling locations according to skill and desired level of activity. Avoid heat stress by paddling early in the morning or late in the afternoon, particularly in the summer.

    Skill Training
    There are a variety of approaches that can decrease the risk of chronic overuse injuries in paddling. Coach proper paddling techniques, ensure suitable training volumes, and have an appropriate training regimen for your athletes. Educate your athletes about safety protocols associated with paddling.

    Excursions

    • AdventureSmart is a national program providing information to keep you safe while participating in outdoor recreational activities. Learn more about boating safety.
    • The State Government of Victoria (Australia) has information on preventing injury when canoeing and kayaking

    Sport-related Physicals
    Competitive paddling sports are physically demanding and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Official & Administrator

    Talk to your coaches, teachers, organization, or school about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Incorporate balance and strength conditioning to reduce your risk of injury.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    Adopt strength training exercises designed to prevent injuries to the shoulder and back. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help keep the shoulder strong and reduce the risk of shoulder and back injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Get Set Neuromuscular Training
    The Get Set app contains exercises that can be done at home. Created by the Oslo Sports Trauma Center, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, and Making Waves AS in 2014 for the International Olympic Committee, the app allows you to search by body part to view exercises that work to strengthen each area of the body, or search by sport to view a library of exercises that are specific to canoeing.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Equipment
    Ensure participants have suitable boats and paddles for their size and skill level. Paddlers should never go out on the water without wearing a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD). Other safety equipment can include wetsuits, dry suits and helmets. Ensure skin is protected from sun damage by wearing suitable clothing and applying sunscreen with an SPF of no lower than 30.

    Conditions
    Choose paddling locations according to skill and desired level of activity. Avoid heat stress by paddling early in the morning or late in the afternoon, particularly in the summer.

    Skill Training
    There are a variety of approaches that can decrease the risk of chronic overuse injuries in paddling. Encourage proper paddling techniques, ensure suitable training volumes, and have an appropriate training regimen for your athletes. Educate your athletes about safety protocols associated with paddling.

    Excursions

    • AdventureSmart is a national program providing information to keep you safe while participating in outdoor recreational activities. Learn more about boating safety.
    • The State Government of Victoria (Australia) has information on preventing injury when canoeing and kayaking

    Sport-related Physicals
    Competitive paddling sports are physically demanding and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Health Professional

    The role of health professionals in preventing injuries while paddling has two main components:

    1. Providing ongoing education to paddlers, parents, teachers, and coaches on effective injury prevention programs such as balance and resistance training; and
    2. Ensuring that injured paddlers are completely healed and fit-to-perform before returning to activity to prevent re-injury or chronic injury.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Incorporate balance and strength conditioning to reduce the risk of injury.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    Adopt strength training exercises designed to prevent injuries to the shoulder and back. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help keep the shoulder strong and reduce the risk of shoulder and back injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Get Set Neuromuscular Training
    The Get Set app contains exercises that can be done at home. Created by the Oslo Sports Trauma Center, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, and Making Waves AS in 2014 for the International Olympic Committee, the app allows you to search by body part to view exercises that work to strengthen each area of the body, or search by sport to view a library of exercises that are specific to canoeing.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Sport-related Physicals
    Competitive paddling sports are physically demanding and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. A sport-related physical evaluation at the beginning of each season ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides information about preparticipation physical evaluation.

    Learn more about Preparticipation Physical Evaluation.

    Equipment
    Ensure participants have suitable boats and paddles for their size and skill level. Paddlers should never go out on the water without wearing a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD). Other safety equipment can include wetsuits, dry suits and helmets. Ensure skin is protected from sun damage by wearing suitable clothing and applying sunscreen with an SPF of no lower than 30.