Cover Your Assets

Tips for Reducing Back Pain

Peter Miller December 29, 2014

Many view fishing and boating as a fun and enjoyable way to spend time on the water, but if you do it day in and day out you’ve probably dealt with some level of aggravating back pain. Don’t think you’re alone, because many anglers feel it at the end of the day, and certainly the next day. Heavy lifting, repetitive motions, counterbalancing wave activity and long days of standing with the body in relatively the same position often cause stress, tension and muscle fatigue in the lower back and make fishermen susceptible to a number of debilitating back injuries.

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Photo: Rick Sorensen

Fishing is a part of my life and our competitive sailfish team, Get Lit, has won numerous sailfish competitions across South Florida. When fishing a tournament, a typical day includes an early wake up that comes at 4:30 a.m. The team makes their way to the boat, lugging coolers, ice, tackle and accessories, and then we have the arduous task of loading live bait. Lifting large bait pens out of the water is a lot of work and occurs early in the morning before our bodies have had time to get warmed up and stretched out. We compete in a minimum of 10 billfish tournaments each year, and the big money events require us to be in peak condition, both mentally and physically. Throughout the day we need to be very concise and on our toes with everything we do because within the blink of an eye we may have an opportunity to capitalize on multiple fish that could ultimately be worth tens of thousands of dollars. In the world of highly competitive sailfishing, there is simply no room for the weak and wounded.

…weekend warriors are likely more susceptible to back pain and injury since they are mostly sedentary all week…

After an injury herniated two discs and pinched a nerve in my lower back, I was left with chronic pain. Five years ago I made the decision to have minimally invasive surgery at Laser Spine Institute. Within hours of the procedure I was standing upright and completely free of pain. The Laser Spine Institute allowed me to get back to doing the things I love and living the pain free, active lifestyle that I had previous to my back injury.

Don’t think that back pain only stems from tournament fishing the high seas or chasing big fish like swordfish and tuna. A study conducted by Duke University revealed that 69-percent of fly fishermen reported lower back pain, so it’s not always about the size of the fish or how rough the ocean is. Repetitive motion and casting mechanics can be enough to bring on the pain. Furthermore, weekend warriors are likely more susceptible to back pain and injury since they are mostly sedentary all week, and then toss themselves into grueling conditions and demanding activities their bodies aren’t accustomed to. Thankfully, not everyone needs surgery to alleviate his or her back pain and even a little extra precaution can ensure you feel great after a successful fishing trip.

Many prefer to fish in flip-flops, boat shoes or even barefoot, but neither of these options provide the support needed for long days on the water. Flip-flops in particular provide poor arch support, which can lead to pain in your feet and knees. Fortunately, several footwear manufacturers now offer high performance boat shoes specifically designed to dampen the effects of shock and vibration.

In addition to the right footwear, it’s important you dress appropriately—being wet and cold for hours on end will only add to your discomfort and misery.

While you may not be about to compete in a triathlon, you should still stretch in the morning. Five minutes worth of stretching before you get on the boat, or even mid-day if you feel stiff, can make a tremendous difference at the end of the day. Whether it’s throwing a cast net, the casting motion or fighting a fish, a strong core is essential and makes all of these acts much easier on your body. Strong core muscles are key to preventing back injuries, so it’s imperative you keep your body in top shape year-round. Planks, push-ups, sit-ups and leg lifts are great yet simple exercises that help develop a strong core. The kiss of death is sitting all day on a boat. You must also consider how you lift heavy objects like coolers, bait and buckets full of water. It is critical you bend at the knees and hips and never lift heavy objects solely with your back.

Staying hydrated throughout the day helps prevent back pain and cramps. Over the counter anti-inflammatory medications also help if your back pain spikes while on the water. It’s obvious that fishing in rough seas can compound back pain, so if you know conditions will be deteriorating throughout the day and you don’t feel 100-percent, you may want to stay at the dock. Hard slams from boats re-entering the water can compress your discs and create a real issue that may require surgery later on. If you can’t fight the urge to fish and you must go, riding in a beanbag in the transom can help alleviate stress in rough seas.

In the end it’s important you are in good physical condition. It will also help if you pay attention to your fish fighting technique and use the correct equipment for the task at hand. You should be fighting fish, not heavy tackle. Growing older will make your pains more noticeable, but they shouldn’t keep you from the activities you enjoy the most. Hopefully these tips will help keep you safe and healthy while riding the waves no matter what type of fishing you enjoy.

Helm Station Solution

A godsend for helmsman with chronic lower back pain manning the wheel of today’s super fast center consoles, or any craft for that matter, helm pads are not only fully customizable and stylish but more importantly they absorb a tremendous amount of impact and provide boat operators joint relief and a comfortable platform to stand on while pounding through heavy seas. It’s a small price to pay for a big benefit.

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