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Is Swimming Good For Back Pain?

Not only is swimming a great way to keep you cool in the summer but it can be a good form of exercise as well! Swimming can help your heart, improve muscle strength, and increase flexibility. So is swimming good for back pain?

Is Swimming Good for Back Pain?

Swimming as a Form of Exercise

Water provides more resistance than air, making your muscles work harder for each movement. As a result, swimming can help strengthen your body and muscles.

In addition, water provides buoyancy. This reduces the pressure on your joints and makes for a low impact workout.

Most swimming exercises involve the arms and legs making it a good total body workout. Because swimming also increases your heart rate it’s a good form of cardio exercise.

Is Swimming Good for Back Pain?

Yes, swimming can be very effective in treating back pain. Research has shown that swimming can help individuals with chronic back pain increase their mobility, reduce pain and improve their overall quality of life. In fact, some studies have shown that swimming can be even more effective than non-aquatic treatment methods.

Different Swimming Strokes

The most common swimming strokes are:


Freestyle, or front crawl, is probably the most common form of swimming. With this stroke, you swim on your stomach, kick your legs, and rotate your arms one at a time. Your arms rotate above your body then through the water to propel yourself forward.

Butterfly Stroke

The butterfly stroke is also performed on your stomach. However, it involves a more complicated movement in which both of your arms and upper body come out of the water and glide back in at the same time. Why your are doing this,  you simultaneously pull both feet up toward your body with your knees bent. You then kick your legs out to each side pull them back to a fully extended position parallel with the rest of your body.


The breaststroke is also performed on your stomach. When swimming with the breaststroke, your head remains above water and your arms beneath the water. Your arms extend out in front of you, then push to each side to propel yourself forward. At the same time, you bend your knees to bring your feet up toward you in the center of your body, then kick them out to the side at the same time, returning to an extended position.


The backstroke differs from the other three as it’s performed on your back. When performing the backstroke you extend one arm above your head and rotate it so it’s in front of you. After submerging your arm in the water in front of you, you rotate it back, through the water, until it’s back at your side. You then repeat the motion with the other arm. While your arms are continuing this motion your lower legs are gently kicking to help your body move.

Which Swimming Stroke is Best for Lower Back Pain?

As with any new exercise program it’s important to talk to your doctor and/or physical trainer prior to beginning. You’ll want to make sure that any exercise you’re performing is appropriate for your unique situation.

As is common with other exercise programs, you want to avoid hyperextension. Stretching your spine, muscles, ligaments and tendons too far in any direction can result in injury and making your back pain worse.

The backstroke is often a good stroke for individuals with lower back pain as it usually involves less stress on the lower back. When individuals swim on their stomach, they tend to arch their back in an attempt to keep their head and chest out of the water. This forces their legs to be further submerged in the water and their spine to be overextended. The backstroke can help minimize this overextension and improve the spine’s posture.  In addition, the rotation of the abs when performing the backstroke can help improve core muscle strength.

If you enjoy swimming or are looking for a low impact cardio workout to help with your back pain, check out some of the swimming programs in your area. In the Saratoga Springs area the Saratoga Regional YMCA and Glens Falls YMCA offer swim programs and open swim times in their pools. In the Plattsburgh area, individuals can swim at the Plattsburgh YMCA or at the CVPH Wellness Center.



*Please Note: Information on this site or any recommended sites should not be used as a diagnosis or a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.
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