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Swimming for Back Pain

By: Jo Johnson - Updated: 3 Apr 2016 | comments*Discuss
Swimming; Strokes; Gravity;

Swimming is highly recommended as an effective way of keeping muscles and joints supple and strong.

It is a non-impact activity meaning that the weightless environment of the water coupled with the suspension in water takes the pressure off joint allowing them and the associated structures to relax. When these structures become relaxed any compression on the nerves is reduced.

Swimming helps prevent and heal muscular sprains and strains and can help lower chronic pain conditions. It does not exert high amounts of pressure on the back.

It is recommended in the recovery of lower back pain and is a good resistance training exercise for increasing strength and tone. The nature of swimming helps to increase blood circulation, thereby increasing the nutrients and oxygen supply to areas of damage, aiding in the healing process.

In the event of a recent back injury, there are certain precautions that can be taken to avoid exacerbating the pain and damage to the spine and its structures.


If your GP has confirmed a spinal condition with a definite diagnosis, always check before participating in this activity.Strokes that require excessive head movement can increase the risk of further damage, especially to injuries of the cervical spine, correct technique must be ascertained to avoid any complications.

Back stroke can cause fatigue of the neck and shoulder region resulting in any existing injury to take longer to heal.When performing the front crawl, the swimmer may experience excessive extension of the lower back, again worsening the condition.

If pain levels increase whilst swimming, stop and seek advice from a healthcare professional or swimming instructor as stroke technique may need perfecting.

Preventative Measures

  • Always ensure strokes are being executed properly; movements should not be ‘jerky’ or cause panic or struggle with the swimmer.

  • Keep the body level and well supported by pulling the abdominal muscles in and up.

  • When taking breaths, especially with the front crawl, try not to twist your head to the side, and instead roll the whole body.If necessary, use a breathing aid such as a snorkel to reduce to chance of twisting the neck or shoulders.

  • Use a flotation device to help keep the body straight and allow for non-twisting head movements when breathing.

  • Choose your own pace and don’t let others influence you.

  • If necessary hold onto the side for a few sessions until confidence and strength has been built up. This allows for the legs to take up the strain whilst the upper body is held in a straight and supported stance.

  • Try and go with a friend, who can assist as both an aid, in case of further damage, and as someone who can help perfect your technique.

  • It is best to alternate your strokes to avoid excessive muscle strain, with the most beneficial being swimming on your side, changing sides regularly.
Swimming is highly regarded as one of the best exercises in the presence of a back condition. It is important to remember your own limits and strengths and find a programme that is suitable for you.

Remember: if there is an existing condition, it is best to seek medical advice before embarking on any training programme.

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[Add a Comment]
Ravi - Your Question:
I am suffering from sleep disc problem in a x-ray L 1 compressed a little plz give me a opinion can I go swimmingI am 31 years

Our Response:
Sorry we can't advice on individual medical issues. Your GP or Physiotherapist should be able to advise you.
BackPainExpert - 6-Apr-16 @ 10:51 AM
I am suffering from sleep disc problem in ax-ray L 1 compressed a little plz give me a opinion can I go swimming I am 31 years
Ravi - 3-Apr-16 @ 1:22 PM
I am 74 yrs of age I had an x ray in my twenties and was diagnosed has having curvature of the spine sent away and told I would have to live with it.In all of these years the only relief I have ever had is when it aches badly is to lay on the floor for 3 or 4 weeks until it eases up.I do not take nsaids only very rarely as I am aware of their side effects. Having said allthis I used to run regular into my 60s but not now. But I still play tennis.I have never had my back checked again in all those year, but now laying on the floor to quote a pun is becoming tiresome.Any suggestions. Yours sincerely E.C. Haywood.
nil - 24-Mar-14 @ 5:04 PM
I am a 38 year old male, with an arthritic disc in level 3/4 of my spine. Ive had an mri scan which determined this. I did a lot of weightlifting and boxing in my younger years. I manage the ache's and pain's with paracetamol and tramadol on a daily basis and have done for 2 - 3 year's now.. Every now and again I tend to pull my back and im in terrible pain. Im fine normally though, but ive had to end all of the training I used to do. I'd like to know, for my type of injury, whether or not swimming would be a good form of exercise to take part in?? Thankyou, Terry.
Ginger nut's.. - 18-Sep-13 @ 6:48 PM
Ill try this advice. I hope it will work
Nthenge - 28-Oct-11 @ 5:08 AM
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