A Young single scull rowing competitor paddles on the tranquil lake.

Wrist or arm pain with rowing?

Understanding wrist, elbow & arm pain in rowers: causes & solutions


Rowing is a demanding sport that engages muscles all over your body, especially in the upper limb. While there are numerous benefits to rowing, such as cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength, rowers (whether training for rowing or exercising on an indoor rower) often experience discomfort or pain in their wrist, elbow or shoulder due to the repetitive nature of the sport.

Common sources of pain

Wrist pain: 

Wrist pain is a common concern among rowers, often stemming from overuse or poor technique. The constant gripping of the oar and the repetitive motion of flexing and extending the wrists can lead to strain and inflammation. 

Wrist tendinopathy (or tendonitis) is the most common wrist injury seen in rowers. The feathering hand, responsible for twisting the oar, is particularly susceptible to injury due to the repetitive extension of the wrist required for maneuvering the blade in and out of the water.

Rowers may develop conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome due to repetitive movement causing swelling and increased pressure on the nerve.

Man with painful wrist

Elbow pain: 

Elbow pain is another prevalent issue for rowers. The repetitive pulling motion during rowing can place stress on the tendons and muscles on the inside and outside of the elbow, leading to inflammation and pain.

Lateral epicondylitis, also commonly known as tennis elbow is characterised by pain and discomfort on the outside of the elbow and upper forearm. Golfer’s elbow, or medial epicondylitis, is characterised by irritation on the inner side of the arm and elbow.

Shoulder pain: 

Similarly, rowers may also experience pain in their arms, particularly in the muscles of the upper arm and shoulder. This pain can result from muscle fatigue, overuse, or improper rowing technique. Conditions like biceps tendonitis or rotator cuff injuries may develop, causing discomfort and limiting performance.

Sports Injuries. Understanding wrist, elbow & arm pain in rowers: causes & solutions

Prevention and management strategies

What can we do to prevent or manage these symptoms from occurring? 

Proper technique: 

Focusing on proper technique and form is essential to reduce strain on these vulnerable areas. Rowers should pay attention to their grip on the oar, ensuring it is not too tight, and maintain a smooth, fluid motion throughout the rowing stroke.

Strengthening exercises: 

Incorporating specific exercises to strengthen the muscles around the wrists, elbows, and shoulders can help prevent injury and alleviate pain. Stretching and mobility exercises should also be included in the rower’s routine to improve flexibility and reduce muscle tightness.

Pilates and hand therapy. Melbourne Hand Rehab client using a pilates reformer as part of there hand therapy treatment.

Rest and recovery: 

Adequate rest and recovery are crucial for allowing the body to heal and repair itself. Rowers should listen to their bodies and avoid pushing through pain, as this can lead to further injury. Ice therapy, massage, and other forms of self-care can also aid in alleviating pain and promoting recovery.

When to seek help?

If you have addressed all the above issues and still have pain, it’s time to seek help. Some hand and wrist conditions require more attentive and tailored treatment and rehabilitation to overcome. Consult a hand therapist for a specific diagnosis and management program. Treatment programs may include:

  • Education and advice on load management
  • Splinting or taping to rest the area
  • Massage, dry needling or ice
  • A customised exercise program
  • A schedule for returning to rowing


Hand Therapy, massage, tennis elbow

Wrist, elbow, and shoulder pain are common issues faced by rowers due to the repetitive nature of the sport. By focusing on proper technique, incorporating strengthening exercises, and prioritising rest and recovery, rowers can effectively manage and prevent these injuries, allowing them to continue enjoying the benefits of rowing for years to come.


If you are experiencing finger, hand or wrist pain, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’d love to help you.



For more information, call us directly on 03 9458 5166


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