Can people with back pain use swimming as treatment? Read now to find out

Focus on spine-friendly swim styles

Can people with back pain use swimming as treatment? Read now to find out

For people with back pain, treatment can start from the doctor and extend… to the swimming pool. However, people with back pain do not swim with the same technique as normal people and need to know which swimming style is “spine-friendly” and which style of swimming is “contraindicated to the spine”.

In the health field, the keyword that you need to remember is “MODERATE”. Something you “try too hard” can make yourself “dead”! If you are swimming for the purpose of training or treating an injury, keep this in mind. Although swimming is often “prescribed” for people with back pain or disc herniation, in fact, if exercising incorrectly or exercising excessively, the severity of back pain can be exacerbated.

Swimming with back pain

Swimming with back pain

In general, swimming is an excellent form of low-impact aerobic exercise that is gentle on the back and spine. Unlike running or many other forms of aerobic exercise, swimming has little effect on the spinal structure and helps strengthen the muscles that support the spinal region and strengthen the area around injured discs. . Water supports the body, reducing its impact on all joints in the body. Therefore, for people with osteoarthritis or other forms of joint pain or back pain, pool therapy (also known as water therapy) and gentle swimming are part of the recommended therapy. However, in order to have a good therapeutic effect and not be “counterproductive”, let’s learn carefully the problems related to swimming back pain.

Cause back pain or neck pain when swimming

There are many causes of back pain during swimming, typically:

  • The lower back can be held overly stretched during tummy swims (stride, breaststroke and butterfly swimming).
  • The upper spine (neck) may be pulled back after repeated head-ups breathe in tummy swims.
  • The disc and other sensitive structures in the lower back can be affected by shear force due to repeated rotation of the lower spine and hips while swimming.

How to prevent back pain caused by swimming

To help your body from swimming back pain you can apply one of the following tips:

  • Modify a swim profile suitable for tummy swim styles: keep your body horizontal in water (lift your belly up, don’t let your back hang down) and keep your head straight rather than lifting your head.
  • Use a slant or backstroke instead of a tummy swim, if possible.
  • Turn your body to the side and keep your chin retracted while taking a breath during free-swimming, instead of jerking your head back to reduce the amount of movement in your neck during swimming.
  • Use a steam hose (snorkel) to eliminate the need to raise your head for breath, or when you have to turn your lower back when you turn your head to breathe.
  • Use accessories (noodle, board, life jacket) to maintain proper swimming shape.

Focus on “spine-friendly” swim styles

The posture and movement of different swimming styles will affect your spine in different ways:

  • Butterfly swimming and breaststroke force your lower spine to bend backward while swimming. These movements add tension to the joint surfaces at the back of your spine, which can make back pain worse over time.
  • Stride and backstroke do not force your back to bend; however, you run the risk of exacerbating pain associated with the disc and other lower back structures due to repeated lower back rotations.
Focus on spine-friendly swim styles

Focus on spine-friendly swim styles

Above are the relatively comprehensive framework knowledge for our reference. However, reality shows that we do not have a complete water therapy system for people with lower back pain or disc herniation, and there is no swimming coach specializing in this field. Terrestrial activities are “too stretched” for the back.

About swimmers, most ordinary people do not know how to swim butterflies, so they are not too worried that it will affect their back. A few people can swim backward and forwards, the rest can perform breaststroke but theoretically, swimming is not good for people with lower back pain.

So if we can’t swim freely and backside, we can only do breaststroke, wouldn’t we “give up”? Then what is the best solution for people with back pain when they want to use swimming and water activities for treatment?

What is the WEST method?

WEST is an organization founded by Mr. Ori Sela 20 years ago as part of water therapy that helps people treat their bodies, especially lower back and neck pain. WEST method technically guides all 4 swimming styles according to the modified method to treat lower back pain, but only the frog swimming style is the easiest and most suitable for swimmers.

How to prevent back pain by swimming

How to prevent back pain by swimming

Therefore, WEST has researched and proposed the following modification directions for frog swimming:

First: it’s important to keep your arms wide apart, don’t start with the leg movements. You should only bend your legs when your head is back in the water because when you raise your head and split your legs, you bend your lower back. It can hurt your lower back, even if you don’t feel pain. So what you should do is straighten your body, that is, let your legs sag (don’t lift them) as you lift your upper body for breath.

Second: your body is only loosened when your head is below the water surface, meaning that only after your head is below water can you begin to do leg movements.

Third: when you are done with the leg movements (i.e. when you have your legs together), glide for 3 seconds while your arms stretch forward as much as possible, as well as stretching your shoulders and neck and your lower back.

Last but not least, when you raise your head, try to keep your chin underwater. Don’t try to throw your arm out of the water like a competition athlete (no show off). In other words, raise your head slowly, and as low as possible just enough to let you breathe. When you glide for 3 seconds (that’s after you fan your arms and before you start to move your legs), don’t bend your back. Try to keep your body as neutral as possible.

Remember, here are just a few solutions for your reference. What is important is the direction of treatment given to you by your doctor and that you should follow that method to get the best results.

Wish you happiness and health!


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