Does swimming help with back pain?

This is a question we get asked regularly by our clients. However there are many considerations we have to take into account before we can make the correct call.  We will look at just a few of the more important factors here….

Firstly, we have to understand the mechanics of the person’s back pain before advising them to head to the pool.  Certain back issues are aggravated by lumbar (lower part of your spine) extension, or arching. In order to keep yourself afloat during the breast stroke or front crawl, lumbar extension is required. Therefore we strongly advise this cohort to stay clear from those strokes in particular. However here we can recommend backwards crawl or gentle movements in the pool such as walking or lower limb movements. 

Other factors we think about are the irritability of the back condition. Is the spinal issue in an acute, sub acute or chronic phase? In the acute phase  of some spinal issues, the buoyancy of the water can give a false sense  of security and encourage some to overdo it in the pool, only to feel worse after the session. 

Is the client a capable swimmer? If you’ve been told by your friend to head to the pool because it’s good for your back but you’re a poor swimmer, it’s unlikely you’ll reap the benefits that others might. 

Lastly, it is important to say that swimming can be fantastic for many conditions in the sphere of rehabilitation. It can provide resistance and assistance, in equal measures. Like most approaches to rehabilitation, it’s important to not take a one size fits all approach! 

Ronan Crosse