Hi friends. Today, I want to talk about a subject that a lot of people experience but few want to talk about.
Are you feeling groin pain or hip pain when rowing? Maybe you notice it immediately after you stop rowing. Maybe you’re feeling it the next day? Are you hearing or feeling a snapping sound, like snapping your fingers, when rowing?
Is rowing causing this pain?
Groin pain and/or hip pain are fairly common among those who row and do not stretch, and yes, rowing can indirectly cause pain. It’s not rowing per se that causes pain, but rowing without proper stretching does.
Even those who do stretch but have chronically tight hip flexors may also experience pain when they row. In this case, rowing with tight hip flexors causes the pain.
Is there anything that can be done about it?
Find out everything you need to know in today’s article.
Snapping Hip Syndrome Causes
Snapping Hip Syndrome, or SHS, is typically a problem for those who row exclusively or those who rack up thousands of meters every day (in this case, it’s overuse).
Not everyone experiences this pain, and this is because some people just seem to be afflicted with tight tendons and/or muscles.
My husband is one of those. He has the hardest time stretching his quads (the back of the thigh) even though he tries to do so every day. He can’t touch his toes no matter how hard he tries and no matter how many stretches he does.
Hip flexor restraint is a real problem for rowers. It does not only cause groin pain and/or hip pain, but it also tends to cause low back pain, no matter how much you stretch or how good your rowing form is.
So What Causes Tight Hip Flexor Muscles and SHS?
Let me say right off that I am not a doctor, and if you’re feeling pain in your hips or groin area or you hear a snapping sound, even if it isn’t painful when rowing, you should see your doctor or chiropractor before doing any self-diagnosis. This article isn’t medical advice but rather a general advice between friends.
For people who feel pain closer to the groin area, this is likely associated with the iliopsoas tendon and is often referred to as internal SHS.
If you hear a snapping sound as your torso moves back and forth or feel pain towards the outer side of the hip, this is called external SHS and is associated with either the IT band or the gluteus maximus tendon (the tendons in your butt).
SHS is basically due to cold and tight muscles, and/or chronically tight hip flexors either due to genetics, as in my husband’s case, or due to a lack of stretching and cross-training.
Can Tight Hip Flexors Cause Groin Pain?
Yes, they can.
When the iliopsoas tendon becomes irritated and inflamed due to a lack of stretching or tight hip flexors, it can lead to pain that is sometimes felt in the groin area. This pain is felt in both males and females.
The seated and bilateral nature of a rowing machine tends to cause chronic hip flexor tightness. Increasing hip flexor flexibility is vital for avoiding pain in the groin or in the hips themselves.
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What If I feel a Pain in the Butt?
The rowing stroke requires lots of range of motion from the hips. The body is moving upward so that bending to raise your feet makes your hips in almost full flexion. Overall, rowing is a great sport for older people, and it does not cause joint pain as easily as running and similar sports do; however, this exercise requires a greater variety of muscle movement.
Pain in the behind, assuming it’s not caused by blisters, is most likely because of poor rowing form. On the Finish stroke, you are most likely leaning back too far, which puts extra pressure not only on your lower back but also on your tailbone (Learn more about rowing machine tailbone pain here)
Try not to lean back as far or do what many professional rowers do – using bicycle shorts that have a padded seat.
You might also want to try turning the seat on your rowing machine around. Some people find this simple trick works wonders.
How Long Does a Strained Groin Take to Heal?
If your doctor or chiropractor has told you that you’ve strained a groin muscle, you will need to take off 4-6 weeks from rowing.
While chances are that you didn’t strain the groin muscle while rowing, it does happen. Most people find that they’ve injured their hip extensor muscles or hip flexor muscles or the gluteus maximus tendon from rowing without stretching, which caused them to change how they row, injuring the groin muscle.
No one wants to be told that they can’t row for several weeks, but it is very important that you listen to your health care professional and not return to rowing until the injury has completely healed.
Sometimes, a stress fracture of the hip joint, bursitis of the hip, or damage to the tendons in the butt or the hip flexors sometimes gets mistaken for a strained groin muscle.
See your doctor or physical therapist for an accurate diagnosis.
How Can I Prevent Groin Pain or SHS?
One of the best ways to stop injuring your hip flexors is to avoid hip flexor tightness. This is usually done by warming up and stretching before you start exercising.
Many people find that stretching the hip flexors before you jump on that rowing machine will prevent hip pain (learn more about common rowing machine injuries). Warm and pliable muscles aren’t as likely to sustain an injury as cold muscles.
One easy stretch is to put a pillow on the floor. Put one knee on the pillow and the other leg should be bent. Lean forward until you feel that stretch in the front of your thigh and the hip. Hold for 30 seconds and then switch legs.
You can stretch the piriformis muscle, which is a very tiny muscle located deep in the hip joint, by sitting on the edge of a chair. Put your left ankle on your right knee. You see men sit this way all the time, right?
If you feel the stretch in your butt, then you are doing it right. If you don’t feel it, gently place your hand on the left knee and push down just a bit. You should feel that stretch now! Hold for a count of 30 and then switch sides.
Last, stretch the IT band, which goes on the outside of the hip and attaches to the outside of the thigh.
To do this stretch, lie down either on a yoga mat or in bed. Like the piriformis stretch, put the left ankle on the right knee. Now, put your hand between your legs and grab the back of the right thigh and pull it toward your face. You should feel this stretch in your butt and along the outside of the thigh.
By the way, these stretches are also great for releasing the tension in your lower back.
You might also try foam rolling after your exercise to release those tight hip flexors and the IT band.
Is Rowing OK for Bad Hips?
Since rowing involves movement in your hips, you might think that you should avoid this exercise if you have hip and lower body pain, like in the knees, but actually, this is the opposite of the truth.
Your body was meant to be used and to move every day. When you do a rowing exercise, you are literally working about 86 percent or more of the muscles in your body.
This means that rowing will strengthen the muscles supporting the joints and give you excellent injury prevention.
When your muscles and connective tissue are strong, it will restore postural balance, which means that the body isn’t stronger on one side than the other. This is important for your hips.
Muscles that are strong will also reduce the amount of pressure that the joints are subject to. Rowing is a low-impact exercise, which means that the joints are not put under excessive stress. It is a great exercise for nearly everyone, whether you have bad hips, bad knees, or a bad back.
If you aren’t sure about your physical condition, or if you’ve recently had a hip replacement, be sure to talk to your doctor or physical therapist before you take up rowing.
How to Modify My Rowing Stroke to Avoid Groin and Hip Pain
In addition to the stretching exercises listed above and the foam rolling that you can do after you cool down, you should be certain that you aren’t overdoing your training.
Limit the duration of your rowing workout
I know that rowing is fun, and some of today’s new connected rowers make you want to row for an hour or more every day, but this isn’t really good for your body, especially if you want to avoid injury.
Try rowing just 30 minutes a day or alternating between rowing and some other type of cardio exercise, such as swimming or even walking.
Use the hip hinge technique correctly
Check if you’re using a poor hip-hinge technique. Some people try to row by reaching with their shoulders and upper back rather than using the proper body angle and hip flexor.
Don’t lean back too far
You should also make sure that you aren’t putting an excessive amount of stress on the hip flexors by leaning back too far. I know everyone wants to work those core muscles, but leaning back to a 10 or even 9 o’clock position on the Finish stroke is asking for chronic injury and or hip flexor tightness.
Complement with strength training
Last, consider doing strength training to work on improving your rowing technique. The squat, front squat, and deadlift or Romanian deadlift are important exercises for people who want to do a lot of rowing because they develop the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and other muscles of the pelvis.
Stronger muscles mean less stress on the joints. While rowing itself will give you stronger leg, pelvis, and glute muscles, strength training will make this happen more quickly so that you avoid injury.
Should I Be Concerned About My Posture?
Remember all those times your mother told you to stand up straight? Turns out she was right!
One of the best things you can do in order to improve your rowing posture is to be concerned with your every day posture.
If you are sitting at the computer reading this right now, check your posture. Are your shoulders hunched forward? Is your neck pushing your head forward? If you are sitting (or standing) with poor posture during the day, I can bet that you row the same way.
Work on improving your posture when you are sitting or standing. The muscles involved are nearly the same ones that you will use when rowing.
Improving your posture when you aren’t rowing will improve your overall rowing technique hands down.
The Bottom Line
While some professional rowers claim that hamstring flexibility is vital for avoiding back injuries, the hip flexor is more common and more problematic for most rowers.
When hip flexors are tight, they pull the pelvis into a horizontal tilt, leading to pain in the hip and groin area.
Stretching the IT band, piriformis muscle, and the hip flexors before you row and then stretching afterward or using foam rollers can go a long way towards avoiding groin and/or hip pain.
If you aren’t sure where your pain stems from, see your doctor.
Stay healthy, friends, and happy rowing!
Written by Petra Amara – RowingCrazy.com
CEO & Founder of RowingCrazy, National Rower, Coxswain Womens Eight Team, Rowing Coach & Writer
Petra is a Mother of two and owner of Rowingcrazy.com. Petra lives and breathes rowing, she also has a passion for writing which lead her to start RowingCrazy.com to share her rowing experience and expertise with others.