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Can You Get Neck Pain from Rowing?

can you get neck pain from rowing

Neck pain is a real bummer. It can put a huge kink in whatever your plans are for the day. You can get neck pain from something as simple as sleeping in the wrong position or staring down at your cell phone all night. Or could it be your in-laws? Just kidding.

Are you wondering if your rowing machine is hurting your neck?

Yes you can get neck pain from rowing, it can be a common issue for rowers, often caused by incorrect form and poor rowing technique rather than the sport itself.

Do you want to know how to prevent this type of pain and what you can do to ease neck and shoulder pain? I’ve learned a few secrets over the years, and I will share these with you in today’s article.

Before we get started, however, I want to mention that I am not a doctor or a physical therapist, and this should not be considered a substitute for medical advice. Please seek out professional medical care if you’re experiencing severe neck pain.

Can Rowing Cause Neck Pain?

Incorrect form or focusing on your upper body can cause pain in the upper back, shoulders, and neck.

lady on a rowing machine with neck pain

Many newbies make the common mistake of attacking the handle on their rowing machine like it’s a wild dog they need to tame. This leads to poor technique, which can cause you pain.

Let your legs do most of the work. Proper form can prevent you from experiencing shoulder pain, neck pain, and low back pain.

Learn from Olympic Rower Rachael Taylor as she teaches Correct Rowing Machine Form:


If you are new to rowing, take a beginner’s class on the correct rowing technique. Alternatively, you can watch some of the many online videos that show you how to properly perform all phases of a rowing stroke. Practice as many times as you need to get all the phases right.

neck pain while rowing

Your lower body should be doing most of the work. Focus on pushing off, away from your feet, then bend your back (using your abs) to the 1 o’clock position, and only then should you pull the handle to your chest.

Two of the most common mistakes are trying to keep the handle close to your chest at all times and bending too far back.

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What Muscles Should be Sore After Rowing?

Most people will feel sore in the muscle groups that were engaged while rowing, which would be the glutes, the quads, the hamstrings, your core muscles, and perhaps the arms or shoulders.

The trick here is to notice what is normal muscle soreness and what isn’t.

Normal soreness due to exertion while rowing should occur in the middle of the muscle. If it occurs near the joints, this could mean that the tendons are weak and are having difficulty handling the load.

If you experience joint pain, you should allow the pain to subside completely. Afterward, you can try rowing again, and in addition to practicing good form, slow your roll (as the kids say). Cut back on your SPM (strokes per minute) and see if your joints are still having pain.

If you are still having pain after a rest and slowing down, speak to your doctor or chiropractor.

It May Not Be Your Rowing Machine or Technique

You should make sure that you know where your pain is coming from. Even if your neck is sore after rowing, the actual cause could be your poor posture during the majority of your daytime hours.

Looking down at your cell phone or tablet and slouching while you sit at your desk all day, then slouching even more at home while you Netflix and chill, are causing your body tremendous harm.

Inflammation, arthritis, even damaged muscles are all the result of a common problem in today’s modern tech world – poor posture.

Pay attention to your posture throughout the day. If you aren’t sure about your posture, see your chiropractor for some excellent advice.

You might also try one of the inversion tables available through Teeter. I’ve used an inversion table for many years due to back problems, and I’ve been known to travel with my Teeter FitSpine LX9.

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Speak to your doctor or chiropractor about what an inversion table can do for your neck and back pain.

Watch Olympic Rower Rachael Taylor’s Experience on Teeter FitSpine Inversion Table:

Does Rowing Work the Neck Muscles?

While rowing may work 86% of the muscles in your body, the neck muscles aren’t really one of them. You may engage them a bit during a very intense workout, but if your neck hurts from rowing, it isn’t due to proper rowing form.

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The Bottom Line

Neck pain due to rowing is most often caused by improper form. Double-check your stroke technique to be certain that you’re not pulling too hard on the handle or leaning too far back.

See your doctor or chiropractor should the pain become worse or if you believe that you’re having issues with your posture.

Of course, if your extended family is the source of your pain in the neck, I can’t help you with that one, friend!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is rowing good for neck pain?

Not really. If you’re using the proper form while rowing, your neck muscles don’t really get much of a workout. A better way to deal with neck pain is to very gently stretch the neck and look from side to side. You can also try ice to help reduce inflammation and pain.

2. Is rowing bad for your neck?

Not if you do it correctly! To assess whether you’re doing it all correctly (or incorrectly!), watch your rowing form in a mirror or film yourself as you work out. You can compare your form with instructional videos online or ask your chiropractor or a rowing professional about your form. Rowing is not bad for your neck, but incorrect rowing form is.

3. Can Rowing Hurt Your Neck?

 Yes, rowing can potentially cause neck pain, especially if the rowing technique is incorrect or if the rowing machine is not properly adjusted.

4. How do you row without hurting your neck?

Practice proper rowing techniques and always do a warm-up before a rowing workout. Let your legs do most of the pushing, instead of your arms doing a lot of pulling. When you extend your legs in the drive phase, lean slightly back. As you contract your legs in the recovery, lean slightly forward and make sure you don’t round your back. Take notice of what your neck feels or does during your workout – it shouldn’t be stiff or exerting effort. Its the job of your core and back muscles – not your neck – to swing your upper body forward and backward and stabilize your whole body during the workout.

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