Swimming For Back Pain Relief - Take The Plunge Today 

Discover how swimming can help to reduce your back pain, keep you active and improve your overall health and quality of life.

swimming for back pain

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Today I'm going to share with you why I think swimming is a great form of exercise for those of us looking for relief from persistent back pain. 

Now I know what you may be thinking. 

Swimming's not for you right? Not intense enough? You prefer more challenging activities? 

I can completely get that.

In fact, I used to feel exactly the same way. 

Or maybe you think you don't have the time for swimming. 

And the whole rigmarole of finding a pool and becoming a member is just too much hassle right?

But what if I told you that swimming (when done correctly) will help to reduce your back pain.

As well as leaving you feeling refreshed, strong and healthy.

Would it be worth the time and effort then? Of course it would.

So read on and I'll explain the benefits of swimming for your back in more detail.

And I'll introduce you to a method of swimming that has been designed specifically for people with back pain.

Which will hopefully convince you to give the pool a try!

The Benefits Of Swimming For Your Back

Swimming can be a great activity for everyone, as it's fun and enjoyable for kids as well as being gentle and forgiving for older people.

However, for those of us with persistent back pain it's especially helpful.

For instance, one French study found that swimming (along with walking and cycling) was the most beneficial exercise for improving fitness and helping to control pain when practiced regularly and to a moderate intensity.

So why is swimming so good for your back?

First of all it’s a low-impact exercise, which means it doesn't put any additional strain on your back muscles like some other exercises can.

Also, the buoyancy of the water supports your body as you swim, which releases tension in your back and the surrounding muscles.

And as your body relaxes under the water any compression you may have on your nerves are reduced.

So in a way it's like having a nice bath as everything eases and relaxes, leaving you feeling great afterwards.

Well swimming has a similar effect but with the added benefit of giving you an all over workout at the same time.

As you are actively working and stretching all of your muscles underwater.

But without the pain or strain that would come from doing so without the support provided by the water.

And this will help to keep your body and core strong, flexible and supple, which is vitally important for managing your back pain.

As it's your core that will keep you balanced and provide support for your back in day to day life.

And this will help you to stay active outside of the pool too, which you need to do to get rid of back pain.

It will also keep your weight down and tone your body which is always a good thing!

And by keeping your weight under control you are reducing the load and pressure on your lower spine.

Finally, on top of all these great benefits swimming will energise you.

So you'll find that even when you’re feeling tired beforehand, having a good swim will leave you feeling refreshed and raring to go afterwards.

Swimming Is Great For Your Overall Well Being Too

Swimming is also a great activity for your mind, mood, and emotions.

Because when you are swimming your brain gets a respite from the stresses of daily life.

So for those 30-60 minutes that you're in the pool you're free from beeping phones, the internet, noisy TVs, etc.

And it’s amazing the peaceful feeling that comes from being left to your own thoughts for a short time.

As it's something that happens less and less nowadays!

This can really help you to relax.​

And when it comes to chronic pain, relaxing the mind can be just as beneficial as relaxing the body.

Because when you are stressed you can hold this tension in your muscles​.

Which can force you to adopt a hunched posture which puts even more pressure on your body.

So the more relaxed you feel the better able you'll be to manage your pain.

Also the endorphins that come from swimming and being active will boost your self-esteem and give you an overall sense of well-being.

As well as blocking pain signals from reaching your brain.​

​Which means that swimming will leave you feeling great both physically and mentally.

So what have you got to lose by giving it a try?

How I Discovered Swimming

You’ll have to bear with me here because swimming has become a major part of my life.

In fact, I’d say it has completely changed my life for the better.

So if you read through this section thinking “This guy is laying it on a bit thick here” then please indulge me and let me explain.

Now swimming was never something that was on my radar when I was younger. 

As I was always into the more ‘macho’ forms of exercise.

So I’d play football. I’d lift weights. I’d dabble in martial arts.

Because for me sport was all about pushing my body to the limits and challenging myself against others.

I guess that's just the male instinct to compete right?

So when it came to swimming I was never interested as it just wasn't intense or challenging enough to appeal to me.

Plus I always had it in my mind that swimming was just for kids and elderly people.

But when my back problems began and I could no longer participate in the competitive sports that I loved, I had to look at alternatives.

And time and time again swimming was the thing that my friends and family recommended to me.

So I did some research into it and found that pain-control experts were recommending it too as a great activity for people with back pain.

How Swimming Has Changed My Life For The Better

My chronic back pain meant I had to give up the sports that I enjoyed.

As I could no longer participate in them without feeling intense pain both during and afterwards.

And this took a heavy toll on me mentally as I felt like a part of my identity had been taken away from me (you can read my full story here if you are interested).

However, swimming has turned out to be an absolute god-send for me.

As it has given me the chance to remain active beyond what I thought I might be capable of.

And this has:

  • Made me feel fit and strong in myself again.
  • Kept me flexible and agile.
  • Made my core muscles stronger which provides more support for my back.
  • Massively lowered the amount of day-to-day pain and discomfort that I experience.
  • Given me so much more energy which allows me to live a fuller life.
  • Helped me to maintain my fitness levels, which makes me more capable at work.
  • Boosted my confidence and self-esteem.

So getting into the habit of swimming regularly has been a complete game changer for me.

In fact, swimming has become so important to me that even when planning holidays one of my biggest requirements is that there is a pool nearby where I can get my daily swim in.

Because it eases my back pain, makes me happy, and leaves me feeling fit, relaxed, and healthy.

And anything that does all that needs to be cherished.

Plus the good thing with swimming is you don't need to become the worlds greatest swimmer to feel these benefits.

So don't think you need to swim every day or bust out 100 laps per session at breakneck speed.

Because just a couple of gentle swims each week can change everything.

So finding the time to fit a couple of hours of swimming into your life every week can make a huge difference for you.

Just like it has for me.

You Need To Get Your Swimming Technique Right

can swimming help back pain

While swimming can be a great activity for relieving pain and keeping you healthy, it comes with a caveat.

And that is you need to be swimming correctly and with a good technique.

Because if don't it will add pressure and strain onto your body with each stroke, which can cause you further pain and fresh injuries.

So if you're already a good swimmer then you're good to go.

But if swimming is something you only ever did during school lessons and summer holidays then it may not be that easy.

And it certainly wasn’t for me at the beginning.

Because while I could technically swim, in reality it was more like just staying afloat.

As I had no technique.

So my arms and legs were thrashing all over the place as I struggled up and down the pool with the water going everywhere.

And I couldn't get comfortable with my head under water, so I swam with my head out of the water which put my body in an awkward posture.

Plus I ended up drinking a gallon of chlorine during each length as I was gasping for breath and struggling to do more than a few lengths at a time.

I must have been a proper sight!

And despite my good intentions, my poor technique meant that my swimming sessions were actually doing me harm than good.

As I was developing new aches and pains in my shoulders and neck which alongside my back pain was the last thing I needed.

So I was ready to throw in the towel.

But then I discovered a style of swimming called the Shaw Method and that changed everything for me.

Master The Art Of Swimming With The Shaw Method

As a final throw of the dice I was toying with the idea of taking swimming lessons at my local pool to improve (or actually gain!) some technique.

But as an adult this wasn’t a particularly appealing thought.

As I kept imagining scenarios of the fully grown man being taught how to swim while the schoolkids glided effortlessly up and down the pool.

In short it felt like an embarrassing prospect.

But while I was browsing online one day I came across a website that caught my eye.

No, not one of those websites!

It was a site by a guy called Steven Shaw, a former competitive swimmer who had re-developed traditional swimming strokes into styles that reduced strain on your joints and the pain that comes along with that.

As he noticed through his own swimming and by observing others that many people (even elite swimmers) developed bad habits when swimming.

And this was causing them more pain and injuries, especially in their necks, shoulders and backs.

So he created a style of swimming that would get rid of these bad habits.

And he based this on the principals of the Alexander technique, which helps people with back problems.

So the Alexander technique works on the basis that there is a dynamic relationship between your head, neck and back which affects your natural balance and co-ordination.

And that a correct alignment between these three reduces pressure on your spine which stops any pain from developing.

So a good swimming technique that doesn't cause pain needs to be based on keeping your head, neck and back correctly aligned.

And by applying the principals of the Alexander technique to swimming strokes, Shaw was able to help people to swim more safely, easily, and gracefully.

But aside from correct alignment how does this work?

The main crux of it is you need to swim in a more mindful way.

This means being aware of every stroke to make sure you are swimming correctly and not reverting back to bad habits.

So it’s about learning how to move effortlessly through the water and allowing it to support you as you go.

Rather than swimming in a competitive way by straining to go faster or further. 

So you need to stop working against the water and start swimming with it instead.

​Now I know that all this 'swim in a mindful way' and 'go with the water' talk may sound a little cringeworthy at first.

But the benefits I got from learning to swim this way totally converted me.​

And another big part of the Shaw method is regulating your breathing.

As holding your breath or taking in big gulps of air at irregular intervals increases tension in your body while swimming.

But by syncing your breathing with your strokes you are allowing your body and mind to relax under water rather than putting yourself under strain.

So by swimming with a correct alignment, being mindful, regulating your breathing, and learning to swim with the water rather than fighting against it you can reap the following benefits:

  • Improved posture.
  • Less back pain.
  • Improvements in concentration levels.
  • A more relaxing and enjoyable swim.
  • Less chance of developing neck and shoulder pain.
  • An increased overall sense of well-being.

I ordered Steven’s book when I was starting out, taught myself his version of breaststroke and have never looked back.

As swimming this way has worked absolute wonders for me and my back pain.

And it's improved my swimming ability no end.

So much so that I’m now one of those annoying people gliding effortlessly up and down the pool!

And you could be too.

Can Swimming Aggravate A Bad Back?

does swimming aggravate back pain?

The information I’m giving throughout this site is designed help you fight back against your back pain.

And hopefully it will encourage you to try out different things that may help you to get some relief.

However, I’m not a doctor, physiotherapist or medical expert.

So you should always check with your physician before embarking on any new exercise programs to make sure it's safe for you to do so.

And stop if you try something new and it doesn’t feel right.

However, in the specific case of swimming most strokes should be safe and beneficial to people with back pain as long as they are performed correctly.

But there is one exception.

Which is the the butterfly stroke, as because of its intensity and physical demands it's not recommended for people with lower back pain. 

As one study showed that intense swimming workouts using butterfly stroke by elite adolescent swimmers made their lower back pain worse.

And in some cases even caused serious back problems such as spondylolysis.

So give the butterfly a miss!​

Also it’s important to not overdo things when swimming.

So remember that you don't need to wear yourself out to have a good workout.

As swimming to a moderate intensity is the best option for people with back pain.

Personally, I swim most days for 30 minutes each time.

And this is with a gentle breaststroke that allows me to glide through about 50 laps in my 25m pool in that time which is perfect for me.

As I don't get any aches, strains or muscle tiredness afterwards.

In fact the opposite is true, as my swim leaves me feeling refreshed and energised.

So keep your intensity levels sensible and swimming shouldn't cause you any back problems.

Rounding Up

Swimming is a great way for people with persistent back pain to stay fit and active. 

And just a few 30-minute sessions each week can make all the difference. 

As not only will it keep you in good shape physically, it will leave you feeling mentally refreshed and revitalised too. 

​And it's a great way to wind down after a busy day and relieve stress.

So as long as you make sure you're using the right swimming technique, such as those in the Shaw method, you should be golden.

All in all I have found swimming to be one of the best ways for me to manage my back pain and keep me happy and healthy.

And hopefully you'll feel the same way after giving it a try.

So take the plunge today and see what I'm talking about.

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I'm a psychology graduate and a veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help people learn how to fight back against persistent back pain just like I have.

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