The Benefits of Swimming for Back Pain
Maintaining an active lifestyle when you have back pain is important when it comes to relieving the daily aches and pains, but many of our patients have found that swimming is one of those activities in particular that can provide them with relief. Improving your cardiovascular fitness through exercise can help with blood circulation, an important step in healing injuries, swimming can provide light cardiovascular exercise and resistance training – this combined with the weightlessness that you feel while in the water can help provide a low-impact workout for your spine. Following the guidance given by Dr Nate Bogedain to MyWeekly’s health column, we’re exploring the main benefits that swimming can have if you regularly suffer from back pain.
A whole body workout
Swimming uses a wide variety of muscles to pull yourself through the water. In front crawl alone you’re using your upper body muscles, including the arms and upper back to pull yourself forward, along with the leg muscles to support the movement and maintain momentum in the water. Using breaststroke can help to develop the glutes and quadricep muscles, while your core works hard to keep your body in a streamlined position in the water. Working your muscles through varied movements in the water can increase the strength and flexibility of your muscles, which can combat against the stiffness that you may experience when suffering with back pain. Activating and focusing on your core while swimming can also help to improve your back health by helping to stabilise your spine, which can help you to improve your posture outside of the pool.
Take it slow
Swimming is an activity that everyone can benefit from, no matter their ability. If you’re used to swimming, then using a front or back stroke in the water may be your preferred method, just make sure to take it slow and avoid overdoing it. Trying to move faster and faster in the water may leave you with an uncomfortable resistance, and out of breath a lot quicker, so make sure to go at your own pace and start slow. If swimming is not an exercise you’re familiar with, start even slower – perhaps with a kick-board – and at a safe and comfortable depth to gain confidence in the water, but you may wish to seek the help of a coach to teach you the basics before you begin.
Keep your back parallel to the pool floor
If your core muscles aren’t quite strong enough to hold you on top of the water, you may feel your lower back sink. To support your neck movements while swimming, try to focus on keeping your back parallel to the floor of the pool – this can help to avoid injuries or aching in your upper back and neck post-swim. Buying a comfortable set of goggles can help you with this to make you feel more comfortable having your head closer to the water, and to prevent the discomfort of having water in your eyes.
Avoid high-impact strokes
This means avoiding the butterfly stroke! If you’re confident enough in the water to know how to do this stroke, you may wish to lay off on this one until your back has recovered. Harsh movements in the water can leave you more prone to injury, so it’s best to stick to strokes that you are confident and comfortable with. Being able to perform a stroke in a controlled way can lower your risk of injury in the water and prevent aches and pains after your swim.
Swim on your back
Backstroke can be an excellent one for sufferers of back pain, as it’s naturally a slower stroke that can provide you with more control over your movements in the water. This may be more comfortable if you’re a less confident swimmer as you’re not required to control your breathing underwater. Performing backstroke with your back straight and parallel to the pool floor as mentioned above can help to work your core as well as helping the flexibility in your shoulders – something you may struggle with if you suffer with upper-back pain.
Don’t use the same stroke throughout
Variety in movement will help give you a more balanced workout, and help to build your flexibility and strength in different ways. While backstroke can be excellent for back pain, too much of this stroke can lead to disc pain in the spine. Breaststroke, while a difficult one to master, can help to build the muscles in the shoulders, which can contribute towards a healthier spine. Alternate the strokes that you use on a regular basis, vary your exercise outside of the pool, and most importantly – listen to your body – if you feel like you’re going too fast, you’re aching more than normal post-swim, or you’re experiencing any pain, slow down your movements in the pool and take it a little bit easier.