Swimming Lower Back Pain

While most physical activity can be damaging when a person is suffering from back pain, in most cases, swimming is actually beneficial. Proper technique is necessary, but for those with back injuries, swimming can be a great way to stay fit and increase the strength of their back muscles. Swimmers should be aware that there are some repetitive motions in swimming that, when not performed correctly, can be dangerous.

Swimming is beneficial for several reasons. It allows those suffering from minor back injuries to remain active. The actions required from swimmers promote long muscles, less likely to tense or cramp up. More important than any of these benefits, in many instances water seems to simple makes back pain sufferers feel better. Getting in the pool for a relaxed work out may be one of the best therapies.

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Unfortunately for those suffering from back pain swimming, when performed without the proper technique, can aggravate a painful back. At its heart, swimming is repetitious and this can typically cause more pain or even further damage to a back. Swimmers must be careful to ensure they are using proper swimming techniques and not pushing themselves too hard. If you are interested in swimming to alleviate back pain, there are several key things to keep in mind.

1. Flip Turns: even moderately proficient swimmers typically use a flip turn at the end of each lap. The half twisting somersault which ends with a powerful push off the wall is riff with movements that can serve to further injury the back. Avoid using the traditional flip turn and instead do a touch turn.

2. Free-Style Breathing: When swimming the freestyle stroke, the head is lifted from the water with a turning motion in order to breathe. This motion must be performed in such a manner that the neck is not over-extended. Keeping the chin in line with the body will allow a swimmer to breathe without straining the neck. It is imperative that breathing be done in this manner and a mistake to believe that swimming a modified free-style in which the face is kept out of the water is healthier.

3. Breast stroke: Those who swim a powerful breast stroke place a lot of stress on the lower back. For back pain, swimming the breast stroke must be done carefully. Elongate the body and set a relaxed pace. Remember you are not racing, merely keeping yourself in shape and strengthening your back.

4. Backstroke: Like the breaststroke, the backstroke can place undue strain on the back, although in this case the strain is located in the neck. Tightly controlling the upper body for placement is key for winning races, but actually harmful for those looking for relief from back pain. Keep the neck and head aligned with the body and use long, relaxed strokes for the best benefit.

As with any injury before beginning a swimming regimen remember to check with your doctor. For those suffering from chronic or acute back pain swimming can be a great way to get some physical therapy done and to feel great!

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Filed Under: Back Pain
Written By:  Updated:
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Jesse Cannone, CFT, CPRS, MFT

Jesse is the co-founder and visionary CEO of The Healthy Back Institute®, the world-leading source of natural back pain solutions. His mission as a former back pain sufferer is to help others live pain free without surgery and pharmaceuticals.

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6 thoughts on “Swimming Lower Back Pain”

  1. Edgar Rains says:

    I am a 66-year-old man with decades-long episodic low-back pain. I injured my back badly loading trucks at age 23 and have suffered periodic back misery ever since. Despite my back trouble, I am a lifelong recreational athlete. I still jog, walk, lift weights three days a week, bike, hike, and swim, although I did not learn to swim until age 39. I routinely see a chiropractor once every two weeks. At 5′ 7″ and 142 lbs I am trim and in reasonably good shape for a man my age. But over the past few months I have neglected the pool.

    A recent, and particularly nasty, bout with my chronic low back pain has reminded me, yet again, why this was a mistake. After several weeks of wet-heat, alternating with cold pack therapy, stretching, walking, and chiropractic visits—all to no avail– I finally made it back to the pool for three 25-minute swims last week. Presto! I am now pain-free. I may be the only old guy in the world for whom swimming offers such a simple, and truly dramatic, remedy, but I doubt it. Having learned to swim in early middle age, I am slow, my form is probably terrible, I swim nothing but a slow crawl, and it takes me 40 minutes to swim a mile. But the results are, in my admittedly anecdotal case, miraculous. It might be worth a trip to the pool if you are a fellow sufferer.

  2. swim with sue says:

    yes you are absolutely right ..the best way to lessen the back pain is half and hour of slow correct technique of slow crawl
    it promotes long muscles , and is less likely to cramp or tense up the muscles.
    try to swim everyday and you will be surprised what it can to to yr back.


  3. Forough says:

    Does flip turn can be dangerous for a person who have herniated discs at L4-L5andL5-S1?
    It’s been 4years that I have this problem and at that time I had phyisical therapy for disc adjustment .I didnot do any professional sport for about 4years ,now I want to back to professional swimming ,it can be dangerous if I do flip turn????

  4. steve says:

    It not swimming or the flip turn that are problematic, its doing the actions when our bodies are not neutral balanced or stable, with or without a herniated disc at any level. If you have a herniated disc at any level and are not Neutral, balanced or stable, do not do Flip turn or swim certain strokes. But if you take the time to identify and imbalances in your postural and work to have a more neutral balanced and stable body, you can swim and do flip turns or anything for that matter, but like anything you have to build your self up to it…



  5. Alyson says:

    Couldn’t kicking to far out lol f the water during free style cause lower back pain? Creating to much of an arch?

  6. Steve says:

    Anything is possible depending on your condition but there is one pool activity I like to share with people and that is simply treading water and I challenge anyone to tread water for as long as you would do any other activity.

    That said, treading water offers resistance by the water, support to the body from the water and treading water has you work in no liner motions which is great, since most of what we do on land is very liner…

    Try it…


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