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Common Rowing Ailments

Common Rowing Ailments and How to Treat Them

The first couple weeks of practice are tough for multiple reasons. There’s usually an erg test or two (or more), the workload is increased, and your body has to adjust to being in a boat again. Some of the most annoying things about this adjustment are the smaller problems: blisters, track bites, and chafing. While these problems seem small at first, in the face of a two hour practice, they can often become much bigger problems, especially if left untreated. Here’s a list of some common rowing issues and how to treat them to ensure a successful season. (And don’t worry, I’ll try to keep the gross pictures to a minimum.)

Blisters are caused by the rubbing of the oar or erg handle on the skin of your hand. In my experience, they have come in three forms: a ripped blister, a full blister or a blood blister.
Before practice: Tape your hands in a way that still allows the fingers movement. I prefer to use as little tape as possible, and usually only on my fingers, because I find that tape on palms can roll up while rowing, taking skin with it. However, I have seen various taping techniques, including doubling the tape over itself to cover the area without risk of having the skin pull.
During practice: Bring tape in the boat in case you need to reapply. Do not dip your hands in the river. As soothing as this might seem, this invites infection.
After practice: Clean with soap and water thoroughly. If you can take it, put Epsom salt in a bowl of warm water and soak your hands. This will help clean out the blister and cause hands to callous faster. Using tea bags to soothe the pain is also common. The tannic acid in tea causes it to act as both an anesthetic and hardener. However, hands should be cleaned again after doing so. Don’t use hydrogen peroxide, because even though it will clean the blister, it also take a layer of skin off and prevent calluses from forming.
If your blister hasn’t popped yet, a (somewhat gross) trick that I have found very helpful is this: Thread a needle with about two inches of thread. Put Neosporin on the thread. Pop the blister with the needle but continue to push the needle through until it comes out the other side of the blister and pull it through. This way the Neosporin that was on the thread will go under the skin and into the blister, preventing infection.
Check your grip. A bad grip can lead to unnecessary blisters. Also, try to not use hand lotion. This is not proven at all, but in my experience, people who use hand lotion are more likely to have softer hands, causing them to blister more. However, blisters happen. Time will turn them into calluses.
Spring break: rowing both sides + overgrip = gross
Track bite
Track bites are caused when the calf continuously rubs against the front of the slide. It usually leaves skin rubbed raw and can scab over.
Before practice: Make a “track bite sock”. In order to do this, cut about two inches off the toe of a regular stretchy sock. It will now look like a leg warmer and you can pull it over the affected area.
During practice: Wear the “track bite sock”. You might think you look stupid, but it is way more attractive than calf scars…trust me, I learned this lesson the hard way.
After practice: Clean and wrap. This is another area that could get infected easily. Neosporin and large band-aids are my go-to. Because the track bite is rubbed away skin, I find that it often picks up dirt or fuzz from any clothing and keeping it covered prevents infection.
Check the position of your feet before every practice. Don’t just assume that the person who sat in the seat before you was the same size. If that’s not the problem, you can also move the tracks in the boat (but check with your coach before doing this…coaches don’t always like when you mess with their equipment). However, sometimes your leg is just going to be positioned to hit the track, especially if – like me – you have big calves. If that’s the case, the track bite sock is your friend.
Save money: make your own track bite guard

Affectionately known as “chub rub” on our crew team, I’m talking about the kind of chafing that happens on your bum. Non-rowers should probably skip this section and assume that all of us rowers are beautiful athletes who would never discuss something so uncomfortably gross. Chafing happens when extensive rubbing occurs between the seat and the rear end of the rower. Because it happens in such a sensitive area, I feel like many rowers don’t even like to admit that they have it, for fear of disgust from teammates and friends.
Before practice: Make sure you are wearing clean spandex or unisuit. Bacteria can build up on dirty clothing. Even though it might not smell, if you’ve worked out in a pair, throw it in the hamper. Also, baby powder the area to try to dry up sweat.
During practice: I find that chafing usually comes more from being on the erg than in the boat.   Here you can fold up a t-shirt or towel to put underneath your rear, just make sure that it doesn’t interfere with the workout. In the boat, you’re pretty much screwed. Unless you have a thin seat pad, you might just have to suffer.
After practice: Wash the area thoroughly with soap and water. Try to let it dry out by wearing a loose pair of comfortable, breathable shorts (cotton pajama shorts work well for this). I’ve heard of rowers using diaper rash cream, so if you can manage to swallow your pride and go buy some, it can help the area heal faster.
Make sure your rowing clothes fit and are properly adjusted when you start a workout. A minorly irritating seam can become a major issue in the middle of a long piece, and by then it’s too late. Sitting on the seat properly will also reduce the likelihood of chafing.
For all of these ailments, the main thing is to keep them from getting infected. In order to do this, wash all areas with soap on a regular basis and keep a close eye on them. One sign of infection is a red line leading away from the affected area. If this appears, go to a doctor. The area has reached a point where it needs medicine to stop the infection from spreading further.
Taking care of your body is important. The first step in this is following the steps to prevent small ailments from becoming big problems. Drink lots of water to combat dehydration on warmer days and bring layers for chilly mornings. The beginning of crew season can be a tough adjustment.  With proper care, your body will perform to the best of its ability.

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