Is swimming good for lower back pain?

The question this week is: “Is swimming good for lower back pain?” and inevitably, the answer is “that depends”.

Are you good at swimming?

So if you struggle to swim and are not comfortable in the water, then trying not to drown with a sore back is probably going to lead to more lower back pain. So it’s really crucial that you’re comfortable in the water first, otherwise the tension that trying not to drown is likely to induce will definitely cause more lower back pain. So firstly, are you good at swimming, are you comfortable in the water? Secondly, then we come to the usual big principle which is: “Use it or lose it, but don’t abuse it”. So if you swim and your lower back is more sore either at the time or immediately afterwards, then no, swimming is not good for your lower back pain. However, if you’re comfortable swimming, it’s not aggravating your lower back… Then, it’s certainly doing good – as in the principle of: “use it or lose it”.

 

Few observations

  • Breast-stroke kick is a really powerful kick and often irritates the lower back. As your back arches in the water and then you forcefully kick, basically, it’s like a whiplash effect on the lower back and that often irritates it, but again, be guided by pain. If you’re comfortable breast-stroking, then carry on!
  • Usually, you’ll find that lying on your back in the water is more comfortable, so back crawl may be better, though many people are not very good at back crawl, so you may find you’re just sculling on your back.
  • It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be comfortable doing butterfly, maybe you’re not comfortable doing it anyway so stick to the easy strokes. Stick to the positions in the water that are most comfortable.

 

 

As a compromise, what we usually recommend people to start with is walking in the water.  Not on the water, although that’d be fabulous if you can do that, but walking in the water. Usually anywhere between waist and chest-depth of water because that will support some of your weight, and decompress your spine, but it’s still quite hard work, walking through the water. So walking in the water is often a good place to start and I would highly recommend that you start there, (perhaps not if you can’t swim at all) even if you’re not very comfortable at swimming or good at swimming, you may find that walking in the water is just fine. Again, always sticking to this “use or lose it, but don’t abuse it” principle!

To recap, is swimming good for lower back pain? It depends. Not if you’re more likely to drown than swim. Strokes? Usually best on your back, but essentially following that big principle of “use or lose it, but don’t abuse it” and you might want to try with walking first.

If you need any more detailed help with your back, feel free to message me or you can make an appointment to see me via Skype or in person at www.backpainandsciatica.co.uk

About the Author:

Clinic Director and Osteopath. Gavin graduated as a Gold Medallist in 1991 and is now a Vice Patron of the British School of Osteopathy. Co-author of “The Back Book” with Gavin Hastings OBE in 1996, and author of "active X backs - an effective solution for lower back pain"; he has an MSc in The Clinical Management of Pain from the University of Edinburgh. He's passionate about helping to move people as far from illness and pain as possible, and in January 2015 set himself the target of helping a million people get a better back.

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