If you’re dealing with back pain but still want to stay active, swimming can be a great choice. The buoyancy of the water helps keep your body afloat without adding pressure to your spine and joints. This ultimately allows for greater range of motion, which can be key to strength and recovery.
We’ll cover how swimming can help with your herniated disc and what swim strokes you can incorporate to make the most of your time in the pool.
Can Swimming Aggravate a Herniated Disc?
Swimming is a low impact activity that is often used when recovering from injury, but that doesn’t mean it’s always safe for all injuries.
It is imperative to check with a physical therapist or medical professional before any activity. Some swim strokes and positions can make your neck or lower back condition even worse. That being said, swimming with a herniated disc is possible and can even help with the recovery process. In order to avoid aggravating the injury, you should focus on swimming gently rather than with a quick, vigorous stroke. (Source)
The goal instead is to keep your body moving and to strengthen your core muscles. You can do this without putting added pressure on the spinal disc.
If you’re still having trouble with normal swimming strokes, then you can switch to doing water-based resistance activities while you build your strength back up.
What Swimming Style Is Best for Lower Back Pain Relief?
The best swim stroke for those experiencing lower back pain will be the freestyle or the backstroke. Butterfly and breaststroke should typically be avoided by those with back pain because it can force the lower spine to arch backward. This can add stress to the facet joints at the back of your spinal column, which can cause worsening pain over time (Source)
If you’re opting to try the freestyle, you may want to use a snorkel. That way you don’t need to move your neck while you’re swimming, which can help to reduce pain and discomfort (Source).
The goal is to avoid arching in your back. You can also incorporate floatation devices if it helps with your comfort – as long as you’re moving through water, you’re getting a workout.
Of course, not all back pain will respond well to the freestyle or the backstroke. These strokes can cause a repetitive rotation in the lower back, which can lead to increased pain related to your discs. If that’s the case, you may want to try water therapy instead.
Water therapy is also referred to as pool therapy and is a gentle exercise routine that takes place in warm water. Learn more in our article titled” Why-is-Swimming-and-Hydrotherapy-Often-a-Popular-Choice-for-Physical-Therapy“
You still get the benefit of the water’s buoyancy while still working against the resistance. There is less pressure on the spine when doing these exercises, which makes it a great option if you’re just starting to get back into movement after an injury.
Is Swimming Good for Disc Problems? What To Keep In Mind!
Yes, swimming can be a great option to stay active while you’re experiencing disc problems. Always check with your physical therapist before beginning any new activity; they should be able to help you figure out which strokes and exercises will work best for your specific condition or injury.
However, there are a few things you should keep in mind when you incorporate swimming into your recovery routine (Source):
Avoid twisting your hips and waist. This will allow you to take advantage of your full range of motion without putting too much pressure on your spine and causing pain. Using goggles and a snorkel can help reduce twisting motions.
Try lessons. Enrolling in lessons with a trained instructor can be a great way to start your swimming journey. They can make sure you’re using the correct form in order to avoid making your injury worse (or developing a new one).
Don’t overdo it. It can be tempting to push yourself in the pool in order to increase your recovery time, but this can backfire. Instead, sit in a hot tub when you get tired.
Keep it slow and controlled. Whether you’re doing water therapy or swimming laps, slow and controlled movements are the name of the game.
Use support. Pool noodles and other floatation devices are a great resource for those experiencing back pain. You’ll still get a solid workout while keeping your exercise as low-impact as possible.
Start slow. Take it super easy when you’re first starting out to really make sure your body is ready for the movement. You can increase your swimming intensity, duration, and speed as time goes on and your recovery improves.
Is It OK to Swim with Lower Back Pain?
Yes, it is usually okay to swim with lower back pain. The style, intensity, and duration of swimming will ultimately depend on your specific injury and pain. If you are experiencing general discomfort in your back, then swimming can be a great way to exercise without the added pressure you’ll feel with land-based activities.
They’ll be able to guide you to the activity that is best for your specific problem. They may have you start with water or pool therapy before they introduce you to swimming.
Swimming is often used as a recovery tool for those experiencing back pain because it helps to strengthen the supporting muscles without putting stress on the joints or spine. It can also be a great way to relax your nervous system.
Tense muscles can sometimes cause back pain or aggravate pre-existing conditions. Swimming releases endorphins (those feel-good hormones) which in turn relaxes your nervous system and those tense muscles, resulting in less pain (Source).
Things to Keep in Mind
Swimming is a great activity for people experiencing back pain, but not all swim strokes or styles are the same. It’s important to ease into any new exercise, especially if you’re coming back from an injury or a prolonged period of being sedentary.