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Generally, exercising with back pain is encouraged as it encourages blood flow and increased circulation through the body. This is because it can help carry nutrition to the muscles and tissues,  improve your strength and flexibility and release natural endorphins that can be a source of powerful pain relief. In the case where the patient is older, more frail, or simply their back pain is quite severe, swimming can generally be a good exercise to participate in. This is because it is able to take the pressure off your muscles and spine in a very safe way. If you find your back pain is restricting your movement quite significantly, simply getting down to the pool – perhaps with a friend at first – and just walking up and down in a shallow section can be enough to ease the pressure on your back and get some movement and circulation through your back in a safe way.

Why Is Swimming Good For Back Pain Sufferers?

If you’ve read any of our previous articles, you’ll probably already know that the back’s fundamental role is to resist the load of gravity effectively and to shock absorb any activities in your day-to-day life. When the compressive load becomes too much, either from a one-off event -such as a trauma to the spine from an accident or fall – repetitive stress or poor posture. Swimming, or just being in the pool, is going to effectively take the pressure off your spine and ease that compression. Now, if you’re using the pool to get some exercise following an episode of back pain, it’s probably not a good idea to jump into doing a significant amount of laps – because even certain types of swimming stroke can be aggravating to the spine based on the type of movements they involve and positions you hold while swimming. Once you’ve had a good workout, being safe when you exit the pool area is also important. The last thing you want is to be feeling better when you come out of the pool, and slip on the way back to the showers. If your pool has space to leave a pair of gripped sandals or flip flops to wear back into the changing rooms, it’s a good idea to make sure you don’t slip on the surfaces.

What Stroke Is Best For Back Pain?

In terms of strokes that are better with back pain. We generally advise that backstroke is one of the best if you do have back pain. This is because it keeps your back and neck in a neutral position, and can be a simple stroke to learn if you’ve not been swimming since you were younger, or it’s not a regular activity for you. Stay in a shallow area to begin with to build confidence, and if the pool is relatively busy they often have printed or ingrained lines on the ceiling you can follow with your eyes to make sure you’re swimming in a straight line. This stroke will help ease your movement, pressure and tension build-up in the lower back, as well as helping to reduce any inflammation and relieve stiff joints.

What Strokes Are Bad For Back Pain?

If you have a hyperlordosis – where the curve in your lower back is very pronounced and deep, then this can make breast stroke quite problematic. An already arched back, which then arches further while performing breast stroke is not very helpful for overcoming back pain. Equally, if you keep your head above water while doing breast stroke, this can put a lot of strain on the neck as you will probably tense your neck to keep it above the water. While your body is flat on top of the water, having your neck forced upright will likely cause you to feel this in your neck later on in the day, you might even get a headache from the excess strain. Tensing your neck to keep it out of the water can actually makes your legs drop in the water so you may find the technique to be less efficient as well. If you do have neck pain, front crawl may also be problematic since it involves frequent fast breathing intervals that require you to twist your head out of the water. While it can feel like you are streamlined, lifting your chest to keep your head above the water also over activates the lower back muscles, putting them under higher stress. If swimming is new to you, you may try front crawl just holding a float in front of you – again this can put a lot of strain through your neck as you try to keep it upright and your lower back, so it’s generally not advised to hold this stroke for a long period of time if you are prone to spells of neck or back pain.

If you’re a regular swimmer already, using tumble turns to change direction at the end of the pool can also be a movement we wouldn’t recommend. While some may advise if you’re suffering with back pain to bring your legs closer in to your chest, this can still be quite compressive. Try rather to bend at the hips and minimally flex the spine, however if your back pain is severe it’s best to avoid the tumble turn completely.

Do take care if you do go swimming. Fundamentally, taking careful action for your lower back in a swimming pool is, in the majority of cases, a good thing for you. Less compression on your back and the increased circulation gentle exercises brings, can help significantly with pain relief and boosting the amount of nutrients getting to your muscles and tissues. If you’re suffering with back or neck pain and it’s been ongoing for awhile, feel free to call us to speak with a member of the team, on 0203 947 3222 or email us at info@themayfairclinic.com. Keep up to date with our latest posts by following us on social media, where you can ask us any questions about your own experience with back pain!

If you found this article interesting you may like to learn more about back pain and Pilates, check out that article here

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