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Rowing Blisters: Part 1 The news that Olympian rower Andy Holmes contracted the Weils disease that killed him … read more

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Rowing Blisters: Part 1

The news that Olympian rower Andy Holmes contracted the Weils disease that killed him through the blisters on his hands should concern all rowers and not just those of us rowing on dirty waterways.  Look at the factors involved:  Andy had exhausted himself and he had open wounds – sound like any rowers you know?

And while dying from Weils disease is a very rare complication of blisters there are other nasties out there and not all of them come from the water.  Some like MRSA we carry around with us; others ranging from  hepatitis A through to the common cold can be transmitted by skin contact making us all vulnerable.

Christchurch Girls High School rowers were unlucky enough to be stricken by MRSA.  One of the girls’ had infected blisters on her hands that didn’t respond to a course of antibiotics; she ended up in hospital and undergoing surgery for cellulitis – as did another of her crewmates  . . . and another . . .. One of them had nearly a year of physiotherapy treatment correcting the damage done to the tendons in her hands.

Am I scaring you?

As dire as the consequences of infection are, the prevention measures are simple.

Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands and then just to make sure, WASH YOUR HANDS.

Can it be that simple?

Well, a teacher of a Girls High rival school told me about the hand-washing campaign they ran during the Swine Flu scare; the result was a 30% reduction in the number of absentees from normal.  Think what having more of your rowers for more of the time could do for your training programme.  But you know this isn’t just a casual flick under water – you need soap, friction and warm water and you should take 30s to do it.  Try it! 30 seconds  is a long time – that’s ‘Happy Birthday’ sung twice (Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday  dear meeeee, Happy Birthday to me . . .and again . . .).

It’s not that easy getting people washing hands for this long so Virginia Spoors who headed the rowing programme at Girls High recommends these other actions:

  • Use a pea-sized amount of alcohol gel to clean your hands before and after rowing (this may sting a little !)
  • Wash scull and oar handles in a weak bleach solution once a week
  • Reduce open wound contact by taping blisters and other sores

Do all this and remember that getting enough sleep or rest and having good nutrition are just as important as practising good hygiene.
And then of course, we could always work on not getting blisters . . . stay tuned!


6 thoughts on “The Unseen Dangers of Rowing

  1. We agree! It is also our opinion that one of the impediments to dealing with blisters, callouses, injury recovery etc. is the long standing tradition of wearing “gloves”.

    I know what you’re thinking. You can’t wear gloves because they inhibit the proper feel of the oar. We agree with that sentiment too, mostly because wearing gloves designed for other sports has, well..obvious limitations.

    Our little company spent 3 years developing a glove specifically for sweep rowing and sculling. We think we have a better option than taping up one’s hands. We have what we think is a more preventative solution that doesn’t lessen the feel of the oar and oar handle. In fact, rowers have told us their fine motor control has increased. Callouses will still develop, but will do so in a more progressive manner.

    We would love to have your evaluation. We would be happy to provide some samples to test.

    Best Regards,

  2. Greetings. Infection: I wipe hands and handle before and after with suitable disinfectant wipes.
    gloves: I make towelling tubes to fit over the scull handgrip.. Dampen them before fitting. No need to tie them on. These give a good feel for the handle, especially in a boat. I wouldn’t be surprised if the rough surface of the towel, and the resulting reduced pressure of the handgrip. helped with blisters. Wash daily.
    I make these grips from old towels – new ones are too thick.
    Have fun.

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