Can Swimming Really Help Reduce Back Pain?

Back pain can be caused by any number of issues, but there are a few exercises you can use to combat it. Some of these exercises can be mild, gentle stretches that don’t require that much effort and other exercises can be quite aerobic and strenuous. Everyone has a different tolerance for back pain or a different level of injury, but one treatment for back pain might surprise.

Swimming is starting to become the choice exercise of many people suffering from mild to moderate back pain because it helps strengthen your core and back muscles while also taking the stress of your joints.

Is Swimming for Everyone?

If you have back pain and you think swimming might be a good exercise for you, then it’s probably important to consult a doctor before engaging in a daily or even weekly swim routine. Swimming has been shown to improve back pain issues in people who are chronic sufferers, but not all swimming is created equal. Some strokes can prove to be quite harmful to your back in the long run. Unless you are a trained swimmer or you have been trained for this particular exercise, then you might hyperextend your spine (even if it’s ever so slightly). It’s always a good idea to first talk to your doctor, and then talk to a trainer who can make sure that your stroke is good for your back.

Can Swimming Really Help Reduce Back Pain?License: Creative Commons image source

Of course, certain strokes are easier on the back than others. For instance, the breaststroke doesn’t require as much trunk rotation as the freestyle and butterfly strokes. Likewise, the backstroke is better for dealing with back pain than either the freestyle or butterfly strokes. The backstroke significantly reduces the risk of spine hyperextension, so most trainers (and doctors) would tell you to opt for that stroke.

Getting in the Pool without Swimming

There are some situations where swimming is not an option no matter what stroke you want to use. But, that doesn’t mean the pool is entirely useless to chronic back pain sufferers. Some doctors might ask you to perform “standing” exercises in the pool using bands or balls intended to improve your core and back strength. Chronic back pain is frequently caused by a lack of strength in the back and core muscles, and working out in the water is a great way to improve that strength without potentially damaging your back. The water offers added resistance, making the pool an ideal place to perform stretches and exercises.

If swimming is still out of the question, then you may be able to improve your core strength simply by walking in waist-high water. In fact, that might be a part of your exercise regimen if you work with a personal trainer. In any event, it’s clear that the pool (whether you’re swimming in it or not) has major therapeutic effects on those who suffer from chronic back pain. But, again, always consult your doctor before trying a new exercise regimen. Swimming could cause more harm than good if you’re not ready or if you have other complications beyond limited core strength.





Ryan Thompson is currently studying physical therapy at Southwestern Michigan College. Upon graduation, he plans on working in sports medicine, helping athletes reduce back pain cause from sport competition.

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