Surfing Pain – Causes, Treatments and Prevention

surfing pain

Surfing pain is real. From after-surf aches to much more serious injuries you can’t expect to surf on a regular basis without a bit of pain and sacrifice.

But you can take steps to treat existing pain and prevent any other niggling issues from popping up.

So if you want to be as pain-free as possible in the ocean then don’t miss this detailed guide. Packed full of all of the painful problems you’ll come across while surfing and actionable advice to treat and avoid them altogether.

surfing pain

Why does your body hurt after surfing?

Surfing is great for your body, but it does come with some side effects (like water streaming out of your nose hours after you’ve surfed) and one of the less desirable ones is pain.

One of the most common causes of pain in surfers is muscle soreness, or DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). This is a result of the microscopic tears in your muscles that are caused by exercise.

The pain and stiffness you feel after surfing is mainly due to inflammation in your muscles. It’s your body’s way of repairing those microscopic tears so that they don’t happen again.

If you’re new to surfing or any kind of exercise, this can be a big deal. But don’t worry, we’ve got some awesome tips coming up on how to make sure your next surf is as pain-free as possible.

Find out more about what surfing does to your body in our guide that looks at the positives of surfing on your body and mind.

If you want to learn more from an expert head over to this article by PubMed which covers how to treat post-surf DOMS in micro detail.

Which muscles get sore from surfing?

So where are you going to feel it most after a hard day of shredding waves?

  • Legs – Your legs are involved in every aspect of surfing, from getting you and your surfboard down to the water’s edge to balancing on the board. If you’re just getting into surfing it’s likely that your quads and calves will be throbbing after a day of catching waves.
  • Shoulders – Acting as the powerhouse for your paddling efforts your shoulders need to be moving nearly constantly as soon as the waves get bigger or the conditions are onshore.
  • Chest – When you’re paddling out through the surf, your chest and your pectoral muscles are all working to pull you through the water. Add this to the high-intensity bursts to catch waves and it’s practically a HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) training session!
  • Triceps—The muscles on the back of your upper arm, are working hard to keep your arms bent at the elbow while you paddle quickly in between waves. They also help stabilize your shoulders while they’re in the water.
  • Biceps – Are being used to pull yourself forward with each stroke, which is why they get so sore when you wake up after an intense paddle session.
  • Core muscles – Support your spine as it bends into different positions and act as a defence against any damage to the spine. As you surf these muscles will engage as you paddle and as you ride waves and can quickly get sore after a long surf.

As you can see surfing is a full-body workout, challenging virtually every muscle. But if you want to get better at surfing fast you’ll need to spend lots of time in the waves and really test your body.

Let’s look at how this translates to actual pain and what you can do to stop it from happening as you increase your time out and about surfing waves.

What are some of the most common surfing pains?

Here are some of the most common surfing pains people encounter from shredding too hard or for too long.

Back pain

Back pain while surfing, often referred to as ‘surfer’s back’ is no joke. The pronounced arch in your lower back paired with hours of paddling can lead to problems.

Typically this presents as lower back pain combined with stiff sore muscles post-surf. This can start to become an issue as we get older but there are some great steps you can take to treat and prevent surfing pain at any age (prevention and treatment coming up).

Neck and shoulder pain

Painful muscles around your neck are pretty common after a surf. When you paddle you’re constantly looking up while in a prone position, straining your neck.

You’ll feel pain at the back of your neck, particularly when you look up. This can be paired with sore shoulders and even pain that runs down to your upper back.

Left untreated severe neck pain can make surfing regularly a painful experience, make sure to continue to find the best ways to easily treat and prevent neck pain while you surf.

Knee pain

Knees act as the levers that help us pump to generate speed, bottom turn and perform different surf tricks and manoeuvres.

But all the snaps, carves and laybacks don’t come without a bit of risk to your knee and its inner workings.

Knee injuries are one of the most common reasons the top-level athletes of this sport (WCT surfers) have to take time out of the water. Surfing and ACL tears are commonplace alongside tears to the meniscus, both critical to achieving dynamic movement through your knee.

How can you treat, heal and prevent pain caused by surfing

We’ll take you through some tried and tested methods to get you pain-free and surfing again in no time.

Treating back pain

Whether it’s just a twinge or something more serious, it’s important to know how to treat back pain effectively so you can surf without any pain.

Here are three helpful tips to stop back pain fast:

Use hot and cold therapy – Heat therapy can help relax the muscles around your back and ease any inflammation that’s causing you pain. Cold therapy reduces swelling and numbs the area, making it easier to move around and get comfortable. Alternate between hot and cold compresses for the best results.

Stretch – Stretching helps improve range of motion and flexibility, reducing tension in your back. Try stretching yourself by lying down on your back and then bending your knees up towards your chest. This will help stretch your lower back muscles and counteract the compression caused by the arch when you paddle out and catch waves.

Get a good night’s sleep – Our bodies need time to rest and repair themselves. Aim for at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep which should help ease your pain significantly. If you sleep on your back try putting a pillow under your knees to take pressure off your spine.

Head over to this article by Mayo Clinic to learn more about back pain and how it’s diagnosed and treated.

Treating neck and shoulder pain

I’ve suffered from neck and shoulder pain while surfing for the last decade and it’s no fun. Thankfully I’ve managed to find some great ways to keep it in check and now surf relatively pain-free bar a few odd twinges.

Here are my top tips for surfing without neck and shoulder pain:

  • Place both arms behind your back, place your fingers of one hand around your wrist and gently pull down. Hold for 15 seconds then alternate 5 times. This has worked absolute wonders for me and helps to free up the tight muscles in my neck and shoulders.
  • Get a pillow that aligns your spine while you sleep. They’re no gimmick and if you get a sore neck after a long day of surfing these can do wonders, letting you wake up pain-free for a dawn session the next morning.
  • Learn to not always look up while you’re paddling. When you’ve got a clean line of sight and no incoming set waves you can give your neck a rest by looking down at the deck of your surfboard while you rest.

Head over here to learn more about treating neck pain.

Treating knee pain

While you may be tempted to take a pill or pop on a brace and hope the pain goes away, there are a few things you can do at home that might help alleviate some of your knee pain naturally.

Try applying ice to the area of pain – This will help reduce swelling and inflammation. You can apply ice packs but wrap them in a towel to avoid any cold burns on your skin.

Heat – Applying heat will help soothe stiff muscles and relax tight tendons around the knee area and relieve pain associated with arthritis or joint issues. You can use a heating pad on low settings or soak your legs in a warm bath.

Massage – Massaging the affected area can help loosen up tight muscles and reduce swelling around the joint area as well as provide relief from pain. You can do this yourself or seek out a professional.

If you want to learn more about knee pain or you are concerned your knee pain is serious head over to this article by Mayo Clinic to learn more.


Surfing pain is largely avoidable if you take the right steps. Hopefully, I’ve given you some ideas on how you can treat and prevent any niggling issues you had.

If you enjoyed this read head over to any of the other guides below for more interesting reads from spot guides to surfing lifestyle.