Swimming Exercises For Back Pain

Swimming provides a perfect environment for low-impact conditioning while supporting the body weight. This is wonderful for anyone who suffers from back pain. However, although swimming seems like an ideal remedy for this ailment, some swim strokes are better than others in order to strengthen the muscles and relieve pressure on the spine.

When it comes to back and spine issues, range of motion has to be considered in doing any physical activity. If the swim stroke exacerbates the back problem, then, obviously, it will not benefit the swimmer.


Ideal Swim Strokes for Back Pain

With any physical condition, allowing that part of the body to rest is of utmost importance for its rehabilitation. Choosing to swim as one’s recuperative exercise of choice, requires the maintaining of proper back alignment be implemented at all times. This cannot be stressed enough. Consult your doctor before pursuing any form of physical exercise, especially with preexisting conditions. There are risks that have to be taken seriously. Swimmers may need professional help, such as physical therapists, doctors, swimming coaches, etc., in order to determine which strokes are better suited for them. For example, movements that rotate the lower back and hips may aggravate the symptoms.

Therefore, the freestyle and even the backstroke either need to be modified or used sparingly or not at all. Some swimmers use snorkeling gear in order to keep their spinal discs undisturbed. This way, the swimmer’s head doesn’t have to turn to take a breath, leaving the back steady and straight. Even the backstroke may need to be done with the arms at one’s side, finning to stay afloat with the legs flapping easily.

Also, the strokes that require the swimmer to arch might be too difficult for those with back pain as well. Of course, swimmers can do the breaststroke without completely arching the back, but the butterfly stroke might be overwhelming with the arched back, rotating arms and dolphin kick. As previously stated, adjustments must be made to keep the structural integrity of the spine.

Therefore, the ideal swim stroke is one that might be similar to the traditional swim strokes but modified slightly for the back pain sufferers. The stroke doesn’t have to be perfect in order for the swimmer to receive benefits from it, but swimmers should try for perfect technique even with the modifications. This might require tightening stomach muscles and really engaging the core or working on the kick more rigorously because the twisting of arms and shoulders cannot be used for that particular stroke. Technique will limit injury, assist in working out the muscles properly and not put any additional stress on the back.

Water Therapy and Back Pain

There is nothing new about water therapy: hot water is said to relax us, while cold water stimulates; spas have therapeutic effects on ailments; compresses can treat infections and reduce swelling; wraps are good for sweating out germs and toxins, and the like. If swimming with the traditional strokes proves to be too stressful even with modifications, try some type of water therapy. Once again, the buoyancy of the body in water makes exercise easier. Even walking back and forth through the shallow end can create a great workout. If you prefer to take a class, there are pool therapy workout classes in practically every city and state. Your physician may have already recommended water therapy. Here are some of the water therapy benefits for back pain sufferers (to name a few):

  • relieves every day stresses
  • water supports the spine, back, and joints
  • water therapy exercises strengthen muscles by using resistance
  • improves heart and lung function

Back Injuries & Remedies

Now, before running out and buying a whole new swimming wardrobe, please note that swimming and water therapy are recommended for certain types of back pain management regimes, but alas, not for all. Depending on the reason for the back pain, medical treatment for that particular issue may need to be done first.

For lower back pain due to an injury or just out of the blue, first a doctor will need to determine whether there is a fracture, or possibly nerve or muscle damage, soreness, as well as disc movement, etc. In some cases, the patient may need an MRI to completely diagnose the problem. Then treatment is administered based on the diagnosis. Patients may be given pain killers, muscle relaxants, other relief protocols, or even surgery. Only after a proper diagnosis, can a back pain sufferer accurately treat and manage their pain.

Swimming is a great way to aid a back pain sufferer once their treatment is completed and they are then ready for recovery. As swimming is great for rebuilding surrounding muscles, increasing circulation, strengthening the core and assisting in bringing the body back to a sense of wellness.

Back Talk

As a back pain sufferer myself, I have a vested interest in this topic. I have struggled in and out of pools, hunched over, stiff and in excruciating pain. Only to find that once my body hits the water, I am able to stretch out as if there is absolutely nothing wrong! I find this phenomenon to be extraordinary. I swim laps without a hint of stiffness. Only to then struggle to lift myself back out of the pool – day one. I force myself to return at least two more times, resting one day in between workouts, and am amazed at how agile I am by week’s end. I am a witness that swimming is a wonderful way to workout pain free, but, I repeat, get checked out first, then…GO SWIM!

If this post has helped you, please comment below.





2 Comments on “Swimming Exercises For Back Pain”

  1. Thanks Bev for such an informative article. I suffer from lower back pain, I have been swimming a few times but gave up. I may just give it a go again now that I have more information on what strokes to avoid.

    1. Jamila, I’m always so happy when someone decides to swim again. Please check out my latest post on a machine called Vasa Trainer Pro. It’s a bit pricey, but for the strength training you get, it’s really a remarkable piece of equipment. I hope you’ll let me know how your swimming sessions go in the future. Remember to take it easy and if possible speak to a swim coach, or even a friendly lifeguard for more back sensitive exercises in the water. Good luck!

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