Science and medicine of canoeing and kayaking

Sports Med. Jan-Feb 1987;4(1):19-33. doi: 10.2165/00007256-198704010-00003.


Canoeing and kayaking are upper-body sports that make varying demands on the body, depending on the type of contest and the distance covered. The shorter events (500 m) are primarily anaerobic (2 minutes of exercise), calling for powerful shoulder muscles with a high proportion of fast-twitch fibres. In contrast, 10,000 m events call for aerobic work to be performed by the arms. Such contestants need a high proportion of slow-twitch fibres, and an ability to develop close to 100% of their leg maximum oxygen intake when paddling. In slalom and whitewater contests, the value of physiological testing is somewhat limited, since performance is strongly influenced by experience and the ability to make precisely judged rapid paddling efforts under considerable emotional stress. Paddlers face dangers from their hostile cold water environment; causes of fatalities (drowning, cardiac arrest, ventricular fibrillation and hypothermia) are briefly reviewed. Medical problems include provision of adequate nutrition and a clean water supply, effects of repeated immersion (softening of the skin, blistering, paronychial infections, sinusitis, otitis), varicose veins (secondary to thoracic fixation) and hazards of exposure to fibreglass and polystyrene in the home workshop. Surgical problems include muscle sprains and mechanical injuries (haemotomas, lacerations, contusions, concussion, and fractures).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Physical Exertion
  • Sports Medicine*
  • Sports*