April 2019
Dr Lari Trease
ACSEP Fellow

GRowingBODIES is an injury prevention education program for adolescent rowers and their coaches and parents. We host a blog [growingbodies.blog/blog] with regular information on improving performance through reducing injury and illness and post a stretch of the week for developing rowers on our social media platforms [@GRowingBODIES]. 

GRowingBODIES came about after we (Dr Lari Trease & Kellie Wilkie) finished our time working with the Australian Rowing Team after the Rio Olympics and realised that to change the incidence of low back pain in the elite athletes of the sport that we needed to prevent them from having low back pain in adolescence and especially when rowing for their schools.  The extent of this problem was highlighted in a paper published by Leo Ng and colleagues in 2014 [J Sci Med Sport, May] that reported a lifetime prevalence of low back pain in male adolescent rowers of 94% with a point prevalence of 65% in their pinnacle event of the year.  Given we know a key risk factor for adult low back pain is adolescent low back pain, this is a large group at risk of ongoing issues with lumbar spine pain!

The Australasian College of Sport & Exercise Physicians has released a position statement on sport specialisation in young athletes that has many useful guides for adolescent Rowers, their families and Coaches.

Key points from this document for the developing rower and their supporters include:

  • with the exception of rhythmic gymnastics, there is no evidence that early specialisation is beneficial in achieving elite status in sports where peak performance is attained in adulthood [which it is in Rowing]
  • There is evidence that young athletes with overuse injuries are more likely to be highly specialised than uninjured athletes & this risk is independent of age, sex, and total hours of organised sport [overuse are the predominant injuries in rowers]
  • Resistance training among these at-risk populations has been shown to reduce injury risk by up to 68% and improve sport performance and health measures [see GRowingBODIES blog post #8 on if developing rowers should do weights?]
  • There is an association between early sport specialisation and a number of more general harms, including lower overall perception of health, early burnout, less fun and reduced mental well-being

The ACSEP therefore recommends:

  • Athletes less than 12 should be encouraged to undertake wide variety of sports and include unstructured play as a form of physical activity
  • Total sport participation hours should not exceed the age of the athlete in years
  • Time spent in organised sport should not exceed a ratio of 2:1 to free play
  • Coaches and parents should ensure that any adolescent program adheres to evidence based sports specific guidelines

The complete document can be found at here.

GRowingBODIES are actively involved in rowing specific injury and illness research, striving to improve the understanding of sports medicine professionals and the rowing community across the world on how to reduce the impact of injury and illness on rowing training and performance. Our current projects include, leading & contributing to an international consensus statement for the management of low back pain in rowers (low back pain care pathway, low back pain in rowing), analysing and presenting the epidemiology of injury & illness in the Australian Rowing Team across two Olympic cycles [London 2012, Rio 2016], investigating and reporting on a case series of all rib bone injuries sustained by Australian Rowing Team athletes in the Rio Olympic cycle and the publication of a paper on the role of early surgical intervention in elite rowers for the management of intersection syndrome in the competition period.

This year our Sports Medicine Practitioner education day will be held in Melbourne in early June at Powerhouse Rowing Club and we invite all ACSEP members to join us to learn more about the specifics of rowing related injuries, their prevention and rehabilitation.