What Is “Rower’s Elbow” And How To Avoid This Injury

Rower's Elbow Injury Explained

When compared to other forms of exercise, rowing is considered to be low impact on the body.

Rowing doesn’t involve any high-impact movements that can be hard on your joints. This makes it a great option for those looking for a good workout that doesn’t put too much strain on your body.

With that being said, proper rowing technique is a must to avoid the potential for injury.

As I embarked on my rowing journey in the Summer of 2021, I was eager to jump right in and set some personal records. Hydrow Rower made this pretty simple with its beginner workout plan, which stressed the benefits of sound technique and recovery over the course of several workouts.

Be sure to read out full review of the Hydrow Rower here!

After completing the course, I was on my way to a happier, fitter me!

That is, until I got over-confident and pushed myself a little too hard, which led to developing soreness in my left elbow.

It started with some minor discomfort in my forearms that I mistakenly took for progress. You know the saying, “no pain, no gain.”

In my efforts to stay within the top 10-15% of the leaderboard, I sacrificed form for speed and proper technique for personal records.

Rowing Stroke Explained

As a reminder, the rowing stroke consists of four main stages: the catch, drive, finish and recovery.

  1. The catch is the initial stage of the stroke. The rower leans back, engaging their legs, back, and arms, to prepare for the drive.
  2. The drive is the powerful thrusting motion where the rower uses their legs to push against the foot stretcher, back to hinge at the hips, and arms to pull.
  3. The finish is the last part of the drive where the rower brings their body to a vertical position and extends their arms, finishing the stroke.
  4. The recovery is the final stage of the stroke where the rower returns to the catch position, sliding forward on the seat in preparation for the next stroke.

Where I Went Wrong (Leading To Elbow Pain)

Where I believe I failed with my form was during the transition between the catch and the drive.

Instead of letting my arms hang loose like I did on a monkey bar as a kid, I tensed up and relied on them to finish my stroke. This was in lieu of using my legs like I should have, as these are the most powerful muscle group in the body.

I was so focused on improving my position on the leaderboard that I failed to maintain proper rowing technique.

This eventually led to some back pain too. I would find myself overly relying on my back muscles once my core was getting tired during my row.

Continuing Elbow Pain

The discomfort I was feeling in my forearm eventually led to excruciating pain in my elbow. I was forced to take a couple weeks off from rowing.

I did some research on my injury, and based on the symptoms, concluded that I had rower’s elbow.

To help treat the pain, I took some ibuprofen and purchased a copper compression sleeve from Amazon.

Both treatments helped enough for me to do some light rowing, but nothing like what I was doing prior to the injury.

What Is Rower’s Elbow?

Rower’s elbow is a type of overuse injury that affects the tendons in the elbow.

It is commonly seen in athletes who engage in activities that involve repetitive movements of the elbow, such as rowing, throwing, and weightlifting.

Symptoms of rower’s elbow include pain and tenderness on the inner side of the elbow, as well as weakness and stiffness in the elbow and forearm.

Treatment for rowers elbow typically involves rest, ice, and physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the elbow and forearm muscles.

In severe cases, surgery may be necessary. The amount of time it takes for rower’s elbow to heal can vary depending on the severity of the injury and the effectiveness of the treatment.

In general, however, it is usually possible to see improvement in symptoms within a few weeks with proper treatment. More severe cases may take longer to heal, potentially several months.

Be sure to consult with a medical professional about your injury!

Lesson Learned

The biggest lesson I learned from this is that rowing is a sport of pushing, not a sport of pulling.

In other words, a proper rowing stroke consists of pushing with your larger muscles in your legs while keeping your smaller muscles in your arms relatively relaxed through the drive.

Pulling with your arms, back and shoulders, which often happens when you tire, often leads to injury. Instead, tighten your core and remind yourself to push with your legs.

Final Thoughts

Rower’s elbow, like any other injury, has the potential to become a lifelong condition if it is not treated properly.

In some cases, the damage to the elbow tendons can be permanent, leading to chronic pain and impaired function.

With proper treatment, it is often possible to improve symptoms and reduce the risk of long-term complications. The key is to seek medical attention as soon as possible if you suspect you have rower’s elbow.

However, the most effective solution is to never get rower’s elbow in the first place.

As previously mentioned, you can avoid this nagging injury altogether by following proper rowing technique.

Be sure to check out our beginner’s guide to rowing to learn more about rowing technique!