NOW THAT YOUR BOAT'S IN SHAPE..... HOW'S YOUR BACK?
I joined this world renowned Fireball fleet at the Toronto Sailing and
Canoe Club (TS&CC) three years ago. It has been a wild experience! The
members of the fleet are an incredible group sail makers, regatta
organizers, sailing coaches, boat makers, boat sales people, boat rescuers,
boat painters, and some of them are even skilled sailors.
I learned quickly that in order to excel in the sport you had to
know how to fix anything associated with the boat in order to even throw
the boat in the water and expect it to float. Then you enter the next
phase of training balance and boat handling. Somewhere in the middle of
this intense Fireball training is where my contribution to the Fireball
fleet began. No I am not an experienced boat builder, or skilled sailor,
however I do take pride in fixing the skilled sailing bods!!
Who And Why?
There are a known seven out of 25 boats at TS&CC who have at least
one crew or helm who has had a nasty bout of low back pain. The onset of
pain in typically in the boat building phase where you are doubled over the
boat, assuming unnatural, almost contortionist positions to fit for example
the nut on a mast step. Fireballers do this for hours on end, for months
at a time in the fury of prepping for the sailing season.
It is no wonder that you find yourself with a nagging low back
pain. The pain typically comes on while you are in the bent over position
and intensifies as you straighten up to stretch. If you stay in the
upright standing position the pain will eventually go away. Over a period
of time: weeks to years, this back pain will continue intermittently,
usually associated with being double over a boat or sitting for long
periods of time. The back pain can eventually spread in to the buttock and
even down the entire leg to the toes. Of course at this point the pain and
potential injury has worsened.
The scenario just described above represents one kind of back pain
usually referred to as "Disc Pain". Disc pain is the type of low back pain
which typically occurs in approximately 80% of cases. If you were going to
take a wild guess as to the type of back pain you have, a safe guess would
be disc pain. There are several discs which are located between the
vertebrae or bones of your spine.They are often referred to "shock
absorbers" and allow flexibility of movement in your spine. The discs are
composed of a gel like material with external fibers to hold the gel in
place. A simple analogy is the jelly donut. The movement of the gel in
the disc is the same as the jelly in a jelly donut.
If you bend forward the bones put pressure on the gel in the disc
causing the gel to migrate backwards and bulge. This is the same as when
you put pressure or squish the front of a jelly donut; the jelly moves to
the back of the donut causing the donut to bulge. When the disc bulges
backwards it will irritate the pain sensory nerves causing low back pain.
With frequent bending over a period of time the bulge can become larger,
causing the pain to peripheralize or move into the buttock and spreading
down the leg.
The Simple Solution
This would lead you to believe that if you have low back pain you
should not bend forward. This isn't true. You must simply straighten up
to a standing position or arch your back to bring the gel back to a neutral
position in the disc, thus removing the pain. The pain does not go away
It will recur again with frequent or extended bending. You must balance
the position of your back by arching backwards several times before and
after bending to prevent or eliminate low back pain. You must also stop
bending when the low back pain comes on and arch backwards keeping the pain
control (ie : keep it from spreading into the buttock or leg). If the pain
does extend into the buttock or leg the solution is the same. You will
experience a "centralization" of your pain, meaning the pain will travel
upwards out of your leg or centrally out of your buttock to the center of
your back. In effect the pain has been centralized and is located in a
smaller overall area. The pain may feel more intense as it is located in a
smaller more concentrated area. Continue doing the back arches until the
pain is under control or completely abolished.
What Do You Do When You Are On The Water
The helm tends to have more frequent and intense low back pain on
the water as naturally you are sitting or in a crouched position which
sailing. Even when you are hiking you are still bent forward. Being bent
forward is anything forward of a neutral standing position. It is almost
impossible to arch your back while you are racing. There are only
two opportunities to arch your back. While sailing in a close hauled
position in light air, get your crew out on the wire, sit with an arched
back stick your bum out and push your shoulders back, looking forward or up
at your main. You will get some temporary relief this way. The second
opportunity is between races stand up and arch your back. Continue to
stand during the entire time between races. Of course if you are the last
boat this is very brief but better than nothing. Trust me I know!!
This is the one situation where the crew has a very definite
advantage over the helm in terms of comfort. If you have this disc pain
and you get out on the wire (assuming you are using good form), you are in
effect arching your back in a neutral "non-bending" position. This is the
real reason why Mona is always out there before anyone else with excellent
form to boot!!
Facet Pain And What To Do
There is in fact a second type of low back pain which represents
approximately 20% of the general population, which currently represents 0%
of the TS&CC fleet members. It is probably worth mentioning in the rare
case that it does occur. This pain is typically referred to as "Facet
Pain". The facet pain is the complete opposite of the disc pain. This one
comes on with frequent or extended periods of arching your back or
The typical occupation that experiences this is that of painters,
particularly those who paint ceilings or the bottoms of large cruising
boats! The pain is relieved and abolished by bending over, touching your
toes or simply sitting in a slouched position. This is to suggest that
those "cruising sailors" who spend their winters painting the bottom of
their boats should really be sailing Fireballs!!