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Summer Swims Decrease Pain

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

Summer swims are now for more than just cooling off in the sunshine. It has long been known that swimming is a great all-in-one workout: great for exercising all the muscle groups and offers a cardio workout as well. The latest findings have also now found even more benefits for “playing” in the water. Water-based exercise routines can help ease back pain.

Recent findings from a clinical trial published in JAMA Network Open shared that 3 consistent months of water exercise helps alleviate pain quality of life, and sleep health more so than physical therapy. While that is positive news, even better is that the benefits remained intact after a year.

Swimming and water exercise can ease pain in the back, joints, and musculoskeletal pain. This can be achieved with slow strokes, tread water, or water aerobics. Any activity in the water can:

  • Build cardio health

  • Increase flexibility

  • Strengthens muscles

  • Enhances balance

  • Promotes better posture

  • Elevate mood

With access to a pool for exercise, there is a lessened risk of injury due to buoyancy in the water. The pull of gravity is beneficial for the spine as well. The resistance of the water causes the muscles to work harder than they normally would. Exercise in the water means a lessened risk of falls when exercising.

According to Jeffrey Wang, MD, Co-Director of the University of Southern California Spine Center, Keck School of Medicine, swimming and selecting the proper strokes work to strengthen the paraspinal muscle. Building stability in these muscles helps to support the spine and can reduce back pain.

Dan Enz, physical therapist, licensed athletic trainer, and sports certified specialist at the UW Health Research Park Sports Rehabilitation Clinic suggest that before diving right in, you be fair to the strong swimmer. Otherwise, without a basic skill set, those water exercises could be a bit more damaging than helpful when it comes to back pain. If you are an experienced swimmer in the water, it is still advised that you complete a warm-up in the shallow end of the pool before starting the main workout.

The best swim strokes for back pain are freestyle and backstroke.

If you are not a strong swimmer, don’t despair, this does not mean you have to miss out on the benefits of swimming for exercise and pain alleviation. In nearly every town across the country, one can find adult swim lessons to help build their confidence and skills in the water.

While these findings support exercise in the water to help alleviate back pain, it does not mean that one should forego physical therapy. Simple gentle movements with a regular schedule are beneficial for abating chronic back pain.

There are many people who benefit from swimming to alleviate back pain. However, there will be some that experience more pain, and if that is the case then swimming is not the best avenue to relieve that pain. Smooth gentile exercises that focus on the muscles and joints of the spine can be just as beneficial for chronic back pain.

It should go without saying that if back pain persists, be sure to discuss this with your doctor.

If you have the means and a location to take the plunge, then dive on in. Swimming is a great way to combat chronic back pain and to work to stay healthy and reap the additional benefits of exercise. If you find that the water is not the place for you to stay fit, reach out to us at Liftology where we work to create a custom fitness program based on your needs.


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