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Sunday, 22 July, 2001, 00:07 GMT 01:07 UK
How rowing can be a pain in the back
The Sydney Olympic gold medallists are an example of the best rowing technique
The Sydney Olympic gold medallists are an example of the best rowing technique
Early morning training sessions and callused hands are not the only things rowers have to beware of.

They could also be damaging their backs.

A team of researchers, based at London's Charring Cross and Hammersmith Hospitals, along with the biodynamics group at the Imperial College School of Medicine, is looking at whether poor technique is causing the injuries.

Led by lecturer Dr Alison McGregor, they are trying to discover if there is a "perfect" technique rowers can use to prevent them sustaining injuries.

Rowers in the annual race between Oxford and Cambridge
Rowers in the annual race between Oxford and Cambridge
They aimed to do that by examining how rowers' backs moved as they rowed and developing a mathematical model to explain it.

Rowing is one of the most physically demanding endurance sports.

It requires strength, technical skill and co-ordination.

Dr McGregor, a sports physiotherapist, said: "I want to know how the back works and what pressure is put on it during rowing."

Technique

In the research, rowers were monitored on rowing machines, while electromagnetic sensors looked at what "good" and "bad" rowing techniques did to their backs.

The "bad" techniques included "bum shoving" which describes the movement of the bottom during rowing and means the rower drives themselves with their back instead of their legs.


I want to know how the back works and what pressure is put on it during rowing

Dr Alison McGregor,
Imperial College School of Medicine
Rowers from the Imperial College Rowing Club took part in the research.

Those who had the better technique were more flexible in their pelvises and lower backs than those who did not.

The researchers are now looking at the effect of tiredness and stretching on the back.

'Ideal' technique search

Dr McGregor said it was hoped in future to look at rowing action in boats, rather than on machines.

The team will also look at whether participating in a particular kind of rowing has a bearing on how likely rowers are to be injured.

Dr McGregor hopes the work will lead to a feedback system that will tell rowers if they have a bad technique or one that means they are likely to injure their backs during training.

She told BBC News Online the research could be used to look at the effect of other sports on the back, such as canoeing, equestrian sports and cycling.

She added: "A lot of work is done to enhance performance, not to predict and prevent injuries."

And she said looking at how elite sportsmen damaged their backs could help back treatment in the general population.

"If you can see what's going on in someone with high muscle control and high levels of fitness, you can identify the areas of weakness."

A spokeswoman for Sports England welcomed the drive to find the best technique for rowers.

"When people take up a sport, its important that they warm up properly and that they learn the right technique and the right way to play the sport.

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