Can swimming help relieve back pain?
Back pain can be very debilitating and will often limit your exercise choices. We all accept that exercise is important for our general health and emotional well-being, but it is important to understand both the role that swimming can play in recovery from back pain, and the problems that it might cause.
Swimming is a low impact form of aerobic (requiring oxygen) and conditioning (increasing endurance) exercise. In water your body is supported; this means that your joints are under less pressure. If you have a back injury or ongoing issue, swimming can form an important part of your rehabilitation. It can help to build supporting muscles and increase flexibility in joints. For example, for patients suffering from osteoarthritis, swimming can bring a high level of relief and is often recommended by chiropractors as therapy. Swimming also increases blood circulation which increases the supply of oxygen and nutrients to areas of damage and facilitates healing.
Swimming, however, is like any exercise, and if approached incorrectly can actually cause back pain. Swimming on your back or side rather than your front is less likely to cause problems. If you do want to swim on your front, try to swim the correct strokes and keep your body as straight as possible in the water.
Holding your head out of the water can be an issue. Swimming with your head up will lower your hips in the water and put extra strain on your lower back. Relearning a stroke can take time, so be patient with yourself. Invest in a good pair of goggles and consider a couple of swimming lessons. Watching other swimmers can also help you to sort out your breathing technique.
Another back problem can sometimes be caused by repetitive head movements when swimming freestyle. Sudden, jerky movements of the head to facilitate breathing are not recommended. Keep your chin tucked in and roll your body rather than isolating your head and neck. Ideally you should breathe on both sides of your body, but if this causes you pain, it can be avoided.
One thing you might like to try to keep your body straighter in the water is using a snorkel. You will need to check with your swimming pool as some do not allow snorkel use.
As with any form of exercise, it is important to listen to your body when you swim. Experiment with strokes and find out which suits you. It can be a good idea to vary the stroke during your swimming session, and this has the added advantage of providing a more all-round workout. Another water-based option you might like to consider is aqua-aerobics: these exercises involve standing in water but nonetheless offer a level of support to the body. Classes are becoming more popular across America.
When considering your swimming regime, your first step should be to talk to your Chiropractor. If you find that you are in pain after your swim then you need explain this. Your Chiropractor is be best placed to advise you about the benefits of swimming for your particular type of back pain.