rib cage injuries from erging and sculling

128 views
Skip to first unread message

Sandy Sorlien

unread,
Apr 24, 2010, 4:35:25 PM4/24/10
to
Dear Experienced Rowers:

Do you, or did you when you started rowing, or when you were/are
middle-aged like me, get frequent rib cage injuries? I have only been
sculling 8 months and have had two very painful bouts with some sort
of rib cage injury that my coach says could be either a muscle pull or
inflammation, or a stress fracture. I got one on the left side in
January from hard erging, and one on the right side from moderate
pressure 6-9 mile rowing. A physical therapist gave me thoracic cage
stretches that do help, but the pain can be knife sharp, and is worst
when I'm lying flat on my back, that I don't see how it can be
muscular. I can actually row OK, slowly, but suspect I shouldn't try
to row through this. The January pain completely cleared up after I
rested it for two weeks (did not erg or row, just ran) and did the
stretches.

Is a bone scan a good idea? Any advice, experience, strengthening
regimens would be most welcome. I am heartbroken that I might have to
curtail rowing.

Sandy (55-yr-old female)

Anthony

unread,
Apr 25, 2010, 4:17:27 AM4/25/10
to

Yes. I returned to rowing ten years ago, aged 51, after a 27 year lay
off. For the first five years, I suffered periodic ribcage injuries at
intervals of a year or so. Xrays revealed nothing but four weeks off
rowing each time seemed to effect a reliable cure. Each occurrence
seemed to have been provoked by a period of intensive training. The
pain was sharp and unpleasant, particularly when driving. It never
arose during an outing, but always in the aftermath - perhaps two
hours afterwards - and it made the prospect of applying pressure to an
oarhandle deeply unattractive.

The good news is that the last time this happened was in 2005, so I
suspect that something has been sufficiently strengthened to withstand
the strains imposed by training 5-6 times a week. So be patient!

Anthony

David Hope

unread,
Apr 25, 2010, 1:15:07 PM4/25/10
to
I used to have the similar problem in my first 3 years back rowing,
and like the other post it appears to go away after some time in the
sport. I've not had a reoccurance for the last 2 years so fingrs
crossed. I am sure it is muscular although given the pain I thought
something was broken

Walter Martindale

unread,
Apr 25, 2010, 4:01:32 PM4/25/10
to

Anthony's and David's replies somewhat jive with what happens with
senior athletes. A key factor seems to be a big change in intensity
or volume. As you (and they) have either started or returned to
rowing either starting "cold" or returning a little older, there's
probably things like osteoporosis influencing bone density which makes
us older folks (I don't row presently but hope to get a single
restored and on the water) more vulnerable to bone injury. As I
understand, exercise does help counter bone losing its minerals, but
with us (I'm 56) being a little older, these processes take longer
than they did when we were in our teens and 20s.

Walter

Anthony

unread,
Apr 25, 2010, 6:20:15 PM4/25/10
to

Everything takes longer than it did when I was in my teens and
twenties...

A

LongmontSculler

unread,
Apr 25, 2010, 9:05:25 PM4/25/10
to

I'm a 48 y.o. female who started rowing two years ago. When I don't
ease into an increase in volume or intensity when rowing or erging I
tend to injure a rib. I went to my doctor after the first injury and
he said it didn't really matter what the nature of the injury was
because rest was the only cure, x-rays or bone scans only give you
"bragging rights" (his words). I did some physical therapy and they
emphasized exercises for the scapula area of the back. After the
fifth incidence I had a bone scan which showed a stress fracture, and
then follow up x-rays to make sure it wasn't cancer. It usually takes
4 weeks of rest before I get back in a boat or on the erg. I'm trying
a log this year so I can be a little smarter about changes to both
volume and intensity. Best of luck to you!

carolinetu

unread,
Apr 26, 2010, 5:44:37 AM4/26/10
to
I teach a lot of beginners in their 40s and 50s (and even older) and
fortunately none of them has had this problem. It could be that you
are trying to do too much, too soon. Get your injury checked by a
doctor and once you have recovered start low-intensity training on
alternate days so you have a day's rest between sessions. Pilates
would be a good exercise regime to strengthen your core muscles.

After 3 months or so you can start to increase the intensity of your
training, but always make sure you warm up properly before doing any
hard work.

Good luck!
Caroline

Dr L

unread,
Apr 26, 2010, 7:12:39 AM4/26/10
to
Hi there

Well I'm 'just' 33 and my 8 year rowing career has been blighted by
such issues!! Mostly sweep......mostly bowside.....no doubt with poor
technique. The worst was last year, I was training 10 sessions per
week, all of which were rowing or erging. We were doing low rate high
intensity, eg 30mins basically as hard as I could, HR up to 182. This
totally broke me, I was in so much pain I couldn't drive, could barely
walk, couldn't sleep, was prescribed diazepam.... Osteo said there
was never any real damage, just strained muscles and an 'exaggerated'
reaction by my body. Soooooo painful though! Had to give up squad
rowing (blessing in disguise!!) and took a couple of months entirely
off exercise.

I then started with light running / sculling / pilates. When I felt
stronger I started a program of core weights at my gym (devised by
communication between my osteopath and personal trainer). I can't
tell you the difference this has made. I am also focusing more on
mixing rowing (sculling now rather than sweep) with running, and as
I'm no longer in the main squad it's impossible to get time on an ergo
anyway which I think has helped too! Channeling my obsession with
numbers into my running instead :)

When I get a niggle now, I treat straight away with hot water bottles
and also biofreeze gel, lots of stretching and tennis ball on pressure
points. All advice from my fantastic osteo. This seems to be keeping
it under control so far, fingers crossed......

Please take my advice and REST! My pain started November 2008, kept
training (although seeing osteo twice a week, yes he did advise me to
stop!!), had to stop rowing 2 weeks before WeHORR in 2009 (ie Feb),
completely heart broken, wasn't back in full training until Dec 2009.
It simply wasn't worth it!

Steven M-M

unread,
Apr 26, 2010, 8:30:54 AM4/26/10
to
I don't present it as a cure-all, but I have found the yoga breathing
bolster a great way to open shoulders and chest:
http://www.yogaprops.net/Merchant2/merchant.mv?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=yp&Product_Code=%23OBr

This is a slender, thin bolster. You butt is on the floor; head and
spine supported; shoulders and arms drape to the floor. Perfect for
those of us who spend too much time at the computer. The breathing
bolster is much more effective than the round tubes you see at the gym
or PT's office.

Steven M-M

Sandy Sorlien

unread,
Apr 26, 2010, 9:06:13 AM4/26/10
to
On Apr 26, 8:30 am, Steven M-M <s...@ku.edu> wrote:
> I don't present it as a cure-all, but I have found the yoga breathing
> bolster a great way to open shoulders and chest:http://www.yogaprops.net/Merchant2/merchant.mv?Screen=PROD&Store_Code...

>
> This is a slender, thin bolster. You butt is on the floor; head and
> spine supported; shoulders and arms drape to the floor. Perfect for
> those of us who spend too much time at the computer. The breathing
> bolster is much more effective than the round tubes you see at the gym
> or PT's office.
>
> Steven M-M

Thank you everybody, and any more suggestions are welcome. All of this
rings true, plus what I have read on the web. Just before this
happened in January, I was doing very hard pieces on the erg in prep
for the Main Line Slide 2K. Only a week's delay in the race caused by
a blizzard allowed me to compete. Just before this happened this
month, on the other side, I had rowed a single 9 miles (with short
rests) after only having done 6 miles previously. As a long-distance
runner in the past, I would add two miles a weekend in training, but
not 3 miles, so maybe that was too much. A coach on the iRow Yahoo
group said that any torquing movement during the drive would be bad,
including twisting around to see where you're going. As I am rowing a
stable boat (Maas 24) I do that sometimes. He said to only twist head,
not torso, and to make sure I'm not dropping one shoulder when moving
toward the bow. I also have a late catch and slow rate (18, for
practicing technique) which others have cited as factors - too much
load on each stroke. Maybe a boat that runs better than the M24 would
help matters. My husband, a former chiropractor, says "repetitive
motion isn't normal, that's why people get carpal tunnel and so
forth." Anyway, for others suffering from these stress fractures, I
found the following article and link to four scapular strengthening
exercises: http://www.usrowing.org/Safety/BoathouseDoc/ribstress.aspx

Sandy (resting and moping)

zeke_hoskin

unread,
Apr 26, 2010, 11:01:29 AM4/26/10
to

I had something between two ribs go off last April 1 (appropriate
date!) which
promptly put every other muscle in my torso into painful spasm. At the
time
I was lifting a not-too-full kettle of water at arms length. None of
the money
I threw at it had any result except feeding doctors' families,and it
was August
before I could take a few cautious strokes on a dead-calm lake.

After a winter of slow and careful healing it went off again in
February -
this time with a believable proximate cause, hopping one-legged onto
a curb (kerb to you Brits) carrying about sixty pounds (4 2/7 st, 27
kg)
of recycling.

Vigorous and foolhardy massage the next day progressed it from
intrusive discomfort to completely unbearable torment. A week of
Valium (I'm told. I was too stoned to notice or remember) and three
weeks of aspirin and sleeping downstairs. Now I'm finally doing a
few dozen gentle strokes on the erg and getting away with it.

We have a topic here. Tell me all. I'm 63 and one-legged and came
29th out of 35 starters (ok, and 29 finishers) in the 2006 North
American
Open Water Rowing Championship.//Zeke Hoskin

ben

unread,
Apr 26, 2010, 12:10:47 PM4/26/10
to
> Open Water Rowing Championship.//Zeke Hoskin- Hide quoted text -
>
> - Show quoted text -

Stress fractures are quite common and present much how you describe.
It might get better after a couple of weeks off but then recurr when
you start stressing it again. The bone scan is the best way to
diagnose it then you can take your time off -- probably something like
6-8 weeks, get properly healed and get back at it. The good thing is
that it can heal back to 100% and may not ever bother you again. But
obviously it's impossible to say without seeing you. Depending on
where you live, presumably you need a doctor to arrange a bone scan
and assess you for whatever else could be causing the trouble.

Sandy Sorlien

unread,
May 14, 2010, 7:50:10 AM5/14/10
to

> > - Show quoted text -
>
> Stress fractures are quite common and present much how you describe.
> It might get better after a couple of weeks off but then recurr when
> you start stressing it again.  The bone scan is the best way to
> diagnose it then you can take your time off -- probably something like
> 6-8 weeks, get properly healed and get back at it.  The good thing is
> that it can heal back to 100% and may not ever bother you again.  But
> obviously it's impossible to say without seeing you.  Depending on
> where you live, presumably you need a doctor to arrange a bone scan
> and assess you for whatever else could be causing the trouble.


Update:

I did get the bone scan with injected radioactive material (not x-ray,
which doesn't catch all fractures) and found out Wednesday that indeed
it is a stress fracture of the 7th rib. That means at least 15 more
days on the DL. (Sorry; American baseball lingo.) I'm letting you all
know because after the last three weeks of no rowing or running, it
has healed to the point where if I did not know I had the fracture, I
would be starting up rowing again, but that would be a mistake. So if
anyone has knifeline pain while lying on your back and/or riding in a
bumpy car and/or shifting into 5th gear, either assume the fracture or
get it verified. Going a bit stir crazy here, and sad to miss the
ducklings and goslings on the Schuylkill, but glad to have this
information. Thanks to all for your advice.
(By the way, I read a medical abstract that indicated it is better to
wait a couple of weeks to get the scan because it is the healing that
shows up.)
Sandy

Carl Douglas

unread,
May 14, 2010, 8:41:46 AM5/14/10
to

Others more expert may wish to correct me, but my understanding is that
all strenuous exercise generates microscopic tears in soft tissue and
propagates microscopic fissures or fractures in bone. These self-repair
as part of the recovery process.

Sometimes the damage goes further, & I'd guess this may be more likely
as we age, or when returning to or taking up a sport - until those bits
that are at then most damage prone have increased in density or thickness.

Allowing full recovery is obviously important, since the site of
previous incompletely repaired damage in any structure is going to make
that region more vulnerable to further & more extensive failures,
whether we are discussing a boat, a bridge or your ribs.

Cheers -
Carl

--
Carl Douglas Racing Shells -
Fine Small-Boats/AeRoWing Low-drag Riggers/Advanced Accessories
Write: Harris Boatyard, Laleham Reach, Chertsey KT16 8RP, UK
Find: http://tinyurl.com/2tqujf
Email: ca...@carldouglas.co.uk Tel: +44(0)1932-570946 Fax: -563682
URLs: www.carldouglas.co.uk (boats) & www.aerowing.co.uk (riggers)

Sandy Sorlien

unread,
Jul 4, 2010, 12:00:20 PM7/4/10
to

Update:

Thanks all.
After nine(!) weeks without rowing and with 90% recovery, I decided to
try a gentle row in a gig. It did not make it worse, even though I had
a little pain lifting the boat, so I started doing more activities
with my right side, tending to the cat box with right arm again, etc.
Have rowed three more times (new Echo) in rough water and actually
this seems to be helping, not hurting. I do hope this will eventually
heal 100%... Carl, as you say, I'm sure I am dealing with not only
the rib fracture but also attendant muscle tears and now stiffness.
By the way, when I told my brilliant physical therapist back in May
that the bone scan showed a fracture, I asked if it was OK to stretch,
and she was vehement in saying "No, you can't do anything! No
stretching. Rest and protect it."

Ice is good; ibuprofen is good; walking is good. A lot of mousing the
computer on the injury side is not good.

Sandy

Ian Randall

unread,
Jan 8, 2022, 4:39:35 AMJan 8
to
My latest article for Junior Rowing News relates to this thread and directly addresses the issue of ribstress injuries in junior rowers.

"The Ergometer Fallacy" - https://juniorrowingnews.com/the-ergometer-fallacy/

My conclusions have garnished many responses as there is a growing body of anacdotal evidence supporting my findings but surprisingly very little scientific research. Even based on the little evidence available, we should clearly be restricting the use of ergometers and invest in sculling simulators (like Biorowers) and dynamic machines - especially for developing junior rowers.

Subsequently, I have been directed to two studies;

From Alastair Isherwood of Perfect Balance Rowing, Australia ...
Ian, post Beijing Australia moved to all C2 ergo testing on sliders. I was Head Coach at Mercantile at the time. The reduction in injuries when we got off the static machines was unbelievable - the injuries literally disappeared. We had a squad of 60+ elite or aspiring elite rowers with no injuries in 2011 and we were the number one club in Australia at nationals. - See study here - http://www.rowingact.org.au/resources/fixed_vs_dynamic_ergos.pdf

From Tim McLaren of UTS, Sydney Australia ...
Ian, injuries is another contentious topic - some without a lot of burden of proof.
You might read Dr Richard Smith‘s work from Sydney Uni on a comparative study between Rowperfect C2 and C2 sliders of which we were the testing group.

"Given the large amount of time spent training and exercising on rowing ergometers, is important to quantify and consider the increased stresses applied to the rower as a result of rowing the fixed stretcher ergometer." - see study here - https://drive.google.com/file/d/1XUMkV65zSkZ-wA5xABZa1hPegRcRAeix/view?usp=sharing

The effect of ergometer design on rowing stroke mechanics.
Greene, A. J ; Sinclair, P. J ; Dickson, M. H ; Colloud, F ; Smith, R. M
Scand J Med Sci Sports 2013: 23: 468–477

I would greatly value any further studies that have been undertaken on this topic.

Regards,
Ian
Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages