This article first appeared on the PAINLESS KAYAK FISHING blog.
Can more foam padding in your kayak seat backrest help protect your lumbar spine, and prevent back problems?
This article on Kayaks and Lumbar Spine Problems explains in detail how the basic sitting position in kayaks (the L position) combined with backrest and footrests is the very cause of the discomfort and pain you feel in lower back.
Padding your seat with additional foam can make you feel better for a while, but it doesn’t solve the problem, really. The reason is that what pushes your lumber spine against the back of your seat (backrest) is the most powerful set of muscles in your body, which are your own legs:
Your legs are powerful enough to propel you over long distances, even at running speed, and they can also lift your entire body up in the air, when you’re jumping.
When you’re seated in your kayak in the L position, your legs act as two two powerful pistons constantly pushing your unprotected lower back backwards, against your kayak seat’s backrest. This pressure is concentrated on a few vertebrae, since there are no other bones in this area of your body, and there are no big muscles to protect them.
In other words, although the forces in action are smaller than the force required to support your body (I.E. equivalent to your body weight), they are in the same range.
The more intense your paddling and the more tense your body is, the more power is required to keep your body in its position in, or on top of your kayak.
This means that if you’re tired or uncomfortable, you body becomes tense, and your legs need to work harder to keep you in place, which means they have to increase the pressure on the lower part of your back, that is your lumber spine.
That is to say that foam doesn’t present a good solution to your back pain problem to begin with, and since foam has a tendency to compress over time, even the initial, temporary relief you may feel will vanish after a while.
By the way, if you’re heavy, you’re likely to feel discomfort and pain in your butt too, after sitting in your kayak in the L position. Foam won’t help much in your case because it will get compressed, as will the nerves in this part of your body. Compressed nerves are at the source of phenomena well known to kayak paddlers and anglers, such as leg numbness, leg pain, and butt pain.
This discomfort and pain is not a trivial matter at all, once you start feeling it.
In sum, nearly all sit-in and sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks today are outfitted with foam padded seats, and still, most paddlers and anglers who use these kayaks feel one or more of the following symptoms: Premature fatigue, sore back, leg numbness, leg pain, sore butt etc., and therefore seek a break, in order to stretch, and ‘un-kink’.
In comparison, the basic paddling position in W kayaks is the Riding Position, and it’s similar to the position of being mounted on horseback. In this position, your legs comfortably help you support your body weight, and take part in your balancing, paddling, controlling and fishing efforts.
In addition, this new type of kayak offers you to switch anytime to a number of other positions, including Sitting (similar to being seated in a canoe) and Standing Up. This means you can stretch, relax and stay comfortable for considerably longer periods of time, without attaining a situation where any part of your body would ache.