Can Swimming help low back pain?
Swimming is an excellent form of low impact aerobic exercise that enables patients with lower back pain to improve the flexibility and strength of their spine. The water supports the weight of their body which reduces the stress on the joints and the spine. It is also one of the few forms of exercise that works the whole body at once.
If you suffer from back or neck pain, or just looking to try a new form of exercise, swimming could be the answer.
how can swimming help you?
- Improves your cardiovascular fitness. Swimming at a reasonable speed increases your heart rate and improves your overall fitness.
- Improves your muscle strength. Swimming is a whole-body workout that uses most of your muscle groups and helps improve muscle tone. It strengthens muscles you don’t always use, particularly your spinal muscles.
- Reduces pressure on joints. When you’re swimming the buoyancy of the water supports the weight of your body, putting much less pressure on your joints than other forms of exercise such as walking, jogging or cycling.
- Relaxes your nervous system. Swimming releases endorphins, the feel-good hormones, which can relax your nervous system as well as tense muscles.
What strokes are best?
Backstroke is regarded as the best stroke for people with back pain. It does not force the low back to arch, activates the muscles in your back and stretches the muscles in your chest. This is exceptionally useful for people who spend a lot of time sitting or using electronic equipment (which is most of us these days). Unfortunately, it is not the easiest stroke to master.
Freestyle is the most popular stroke and the easiest to do. It also does not force your back to arch however it does involve turning your head to breathe which puts pressure on your neck so be sure to breath evenly on both sides to reduce this stress. It also produces some rotation in the lower back which is not suitable for everyone.
Butterfly and breaststroke force your lower spine to arch which can aggravate your joints and discs. If you suffer from back pain it might be best to avoid these strokes.
Tips to get the best results from swimming
Make sure you keep your back as parallel to the floor of the pool as much as you can to avoid back strain.
If you have shoulder or neck problems consider using a kick board. You will find it much easier to turn your head to breathe or to keep your head up.
The best way to find out if swimming can help you recover from your spinal pain is to start slow, take it easy and do a few laps. Find the strokes that are comfortable for you.
If you’re not comfortable swimming laps you might consider walking around in the pool where the resistance of the water builds up your muscles, or you might try water aerobics.
Who can swimming help?
Patients with spinal pain and disc injuries. Studies show aquatic exercises, including swimming, are most useful activities to relieve lower back pain (1).
Arthritic patients. Swimming can help reduce the pain and stiffness that occurs from arthritis (2).
Obese patients. Patients who are obese and trying to lose weight often struggle with exercise because of the stress it places to their joints. The low-impact nature of swimming makes it a great exercise for these people. Indeed a 90 kg person burns approximately between 528 and 892 calories an hour while swimming laps at a low or moderate pace (3).
Pregnant patients. Swimming is completely safe and a great way to stay fit, as well as reduce pain and discomfort during pregnancy. One study showed women who swam during their pregnancy had a lower risk of pre-term labour (4).
Can swimming aggravate your symptoms?
If swimming aggravates your neck or back pain it is usually caused from the lower back being rotated and extended or the neck being stressed when turning to breath.
To stop your spine being aggravated try:
- only do backstroke and freestyle
- make sure you turn your neck evenly and smoothly
- maintain the correct strokes and movements
- try wearing a mask and snorkel for freestyle
- use a kick board or other types of flotation devices
- seek the advice of a coach or more experienced swimmer
- see your chiropractor to have your spine checked
Can we help you?
If you are suffering from back or neck pain it’s important to make sure your spine is functioning properly before starting any exercise regime. Whilst swimming may help you, to get the maximum benefit, get your spine checked first.
Our website contains a lot more information about spinal conditions such as neck pain, low back pain and headaches and how chiropractic can help. There are also strengthening and flexibility exercises you can do at home.
To make an appointment, please either book online, or call our friendly staff on 0747793633. If you have any questions please contact us.
- Efficacy of Aquatic Exercises for Patients with Low-back Pain MAMORU ARIYOSHI, Kurume Medical Journal, 46, 91-96,1999
- Improved Function and Reduced Pain after Swimming and Cycling Training in Patients with Osteoarthritis
- Mohammed Alkatan, Jeffrey R. Baker, Daniel R. Machin, Wonil Park, Amanda S. Akkari, Evan P. Pasha and Hirofumi Tanaka The Journal of Rheumatology March 2016, 43 (3) 666-672; DOI:
- Juhl M. et al. IS swimming during pregnancy a safe exercise? Epidemiology. 2010. 21;2:253-8.
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