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Swimming and Back Pain

Swimming is considered a beneficial activity in alleviating pain. Whenever athletes experience an injury, swimming can be one way to keep active while avoiding undue stress on the swimmer’s back.

Swimming can help by:

  • Relaxing Your Nervous System: Tense muscles are sometimes what causes back pain to develop, or they can aggravate spinal conditions, which can cause increased pain. Swimming releases endorphins, the feel-good hormones, which relax your nervous system as well as tense muscles.
  • Relieving Pressure on Joints: When you swim, much of your body is buoyant, so the water supports it. This puts much less pressure on your joints than other forms of exercise.
  • Building Muscle to Support Spine: Exercising in water supports your joints and spine, and it also increases resistance. Swimming engages muscles that you don’t always use, particularly those needed to improve your spine’s stability.

Swimming Exercises for Back Pain Relief

It’s always a good idea to check with your physician before engaging in any exercise, especially if you’re unfamiliar with them. When you meet with the team at the International Spine Institute, we can determine if you are an excellent candidate to participate in swimming exercises. If so, here are some swimming exercises that could help bring back pain relief:

  • Walking: Although technically not swimming, walking around the pool still allows you to reap benefits for your back pain. The resistance builds up your muscles, especially if you swing your arms while walking.
  • Water Aerobics: Aerobics in the water is perfect for working on the cardio aspect needed to build muscle strength. It works a variety of muscles while at the same time, building your flexibility.
  • Swimming Laps: If you’re not a swimmer, it’s essential to start slow when swimming laps, perhaps only twice a week at first. All the different types of strokes work a variety of muscles in your hips, chest, and back. And you can always begin with treading water if you’re not comfortable with any particular stroke. Swim coaches can give you tips on the proper technique, so you don’t hurt your back through an improper form.

However, there are instances when swimming can also result in back pain and back injuries.

Back problems and lower back injuries can be caused by certain swimming strokes.

To avoid these incidences, recognizing the following factors while performing particular strokes may help:

1.) Rotating the head too far up while doing the freestyle can result in neck and back injuries. Swimmers normally roll their heads upwards to the right to breathe out of the water on the upstroke of the right arm. It is advisable rotate the head upwards only within the axis of the body, and keeping the head down the rest of the time when not going up for air.

2.) If not conditioned properly, the anterior neck muscles become subject to stress while doing the backstroke. This stroke is one that has to be performed gradually to avoid excessive muscle strain.

3.) Flip-turning can have an adverse effect on the neck and back muscles if the head is overextended from the body and not tucked in.

4.) While doing the breaststroke, the head and neck is held still, with only a minimal head raise to take in air.

There are several means of alleviating pain symptoms in a problematic back. Some conservative approaches to relief include stretching, applying ice, and taking over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen. With more severe pain, other forms of treatment may involve sessions with a chiropractor or physical therapist.

A chiropractor can manipulate the affected area to relieve symptoms for most sufferers, while a physical therapist can develop a specific program of drills and exercises that can strengthen muscles, enhance flexibility, and decrease pain. Wearing a back brace may limit painful movement while giving the injured muscle a chance to recover.

Constant back pain signals the need to cease all swimming activities consult a doctor for an appropriate diagnosis. Continuing to swim despite the pain is a detriment to healing and will only make the condition worse. The resulting severe pain may even require surgery to correct any back irregularities.

Surgery is only undertaken in the very rare instances of serious symptomatic conditions; however, there are cases when not even surgery can undo grave back ailments.

In general, swimming is a beneficial activity that may alleviate symptoms of back pain.

It is not unduly stressful nor does it involve motions that weigh heavily on the back. In fact, it is a preferable exercise option for people who want to avoid neck or back strain, or aggravate any symptoms of other ailments they may have. It is advised, however, to take lessons in the proper safety measures and swimming techniques to refrain from repetitive or awkward movements that may lead to back injury.


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