Spinal pain and swimming
It’s summer. It’s hot. Realllly hot, and the pool is calling your name. If you’re wondering if it’s OK to get in and go for a swim while you’re suffering from spinal pain, you’ll be happy to know that, in many cases, not only is it OK, it might actually be recommended.
“Many people find that recreational swimming helps ease back pain, and there is research to back that up,” said the New York Times. Specifically, swimming can help spinal pain because, “The buoyancy of the water takes stress off the joints. At the same time, swimming and other aquatic exercises can strengthen back and core muscles,” they said.
Additionally, swimming can be an ideal exercise for those who have spinal pain because it is “a form of active stretching (that) technically will ensure full range of motion movements for many different body parts,” said Breaking Muscle. “It provides just enough resistance from water to provide, over time, sustained aerobic conditioning to the rehabilitating subject, allowing them to continue to work out while rehabbing at the same time.”
Injuries like herniated discs can make running, Crossfit, cycling, or weight lifting challenging or even impossible. Swimming offers a way to stay active—and remain cool—while dealing with chronic spinal pain or rehabilitating an injury. But that doesn’t mean you should just jump in the pool and do your best impression of Michael Phelps. Before you start, it’s important to consult your Texas spine doctor, just like you would before starting any exercise program.
Some spinal pain and back conditions may be better suited for other therapies or may require a period of more limited activity. If you do get the go-ahead to take a dip, there are a couple of factors to consider that will influence whether swimming helps your back pain—or makes it worse.
- The technique. Like most other exercises, swimming with a poor technique can be dangerous and may further injure instead of providing relief. “If you are cleared to swim, and are a beginner, pay close attention to your technique,” said the New York Times. “Work with a coach or trainer if necessary.”
- The stroke. “Butterfly and breaststroke force your lower spine to arch backward during the stroke,” said Breaking Muscle. “These movements add stress to the facet joints in the back of your spinal column, and can lead to problems or worsening pain over time. Swimming backstroke is likely one of the best strokes for back injuries as you lay in the water in the supine position, allowing the water to support your back, in contrast to the other three strokes which are performed in the prone position.”
- Weather conditions. Extreme cold can worsen spinal pain, so you probably don’t want to get into a super cold pool or get out of a warm pool into freezing conditions.
Not a big fan of swimming? Other types of pool exercise can be beneficial for those looking for relief from spinal pain. “Low back pain makes exercising difficult and painful, so it’s tempting just to skip the workouts,” said Livestrong. “Exercising in a pool, however, might feel a little better — and it has the same strengthening power as land workouts.” Everything from the “Superman stretch” to leg kicks to hip swings can be effective pool rehabilitation exercises, and, the bonus: Warm water can also help relax your muscles, helping to alleviate spinal pain even if you do limited movements.
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