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.
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 chronic lower 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 that 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?
So read on and I'll explain the benefits of swimming in more detail.
Plus I'll introduce you to a method of swimming that has been designed specifically for people with back pain.
And hopefully convince you to give the pool 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.
I’d play football. I’d lift weights. I’d dabble in martial arts.
For me sport was all about pushing my body to the limits and challenging myself against others.
I guess it's the male instinct to compete right?
So when it came to swimming I was never interested.
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 I could no longer participate in the competitive sports that I loved.
So I had to look at alternatives if I wanted to stay active.
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.
The Physical Benefits Of Swimming For People With Back Pain
Swimming is a great activity for everyone.
However for those of us with chronic lower back pain it's especially helpful.
As one study found that swimming (along with walking and cycling) was the most beneficial exercise for improving fitness levels and helping to control pain when practiced regularly and to a moderate intensity.
So why is swimming so good for your back?
Well 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 do.
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, hot bath.
Everything eases and relaxes leaving you feeling great afterwards.
Well swimming has a similar effect but with the extra benefit of also 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.
And this will also help you to be more active outside of the pool too.
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 also reducing the load and pressure on your lower spine.
On top of all these great benefits swimming will energise you.
So you'll find that even when you’re feeling tired beforehand a good swim will leave you feeling refreshed and raring to go afterwards.
How Swimming Can Help You Mentally Too
Swimming is great for your mind and mood as well as your body.
As when you are swimming your brain gets a respite from the stresses of daily life.
So for those 30-60 minutes that you are in the pool you are 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.
Something that is happening 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 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?
Get Your Swimming Technique Right
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.
It certainly wasn’t for me.
And it's important to mention here that swimming may not always be beneficial.
Because a poor swimming technique could actually do you more harm than good.
And this was the case for me in the beginning.
Because while I could technically swim, in reality it was more like just staying afloat.
As I had no technique.
My arms and legs were thrashing all over the place as I struggled up and down the pool.
The water was going everywhere.
I couldn't get comfortable with my head under water so I head it out of the water which put my body in an awkward posture.
And I still ended up drinking a gallon of chlorine during each length.
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 more damage.
As I was developing new aches and pains in my shoulders and neck which alongside my back pain was the last thing I needed!
I was ready to throw in the towel.
But then I discovered a style of swimming that changed everything for me.
Mastering 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.
I felt like it would be embarrassing.
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.
Shaw 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.
He based it on the principals of another technique that helps people with back problems called the Alexander technique.
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 pain from developing.
Likewise a good swimming technique that doesn't cause pain needs to be based on keeping your head, neck and back correctly aligned.
So 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 how does this work?
First and foremost you have to learn how to keep your body correctly aligned as you swim.
But aside from correct alignment you also 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.
It’s about learning how to move effortlessly through the water and allowing it to support you as you go,
So rather than swimming in a competitive way by straining to go faster or further, you need to stop working against the water and start swimming with it.
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.
- Reduced back pain.
- Less chance of developing neck and shoulder pain.
- Improvements in concentration levels.
- A more relaxing and enjoyable swim.
- An increased overall sense of well-being.
I ordered Steven’s book, taught myself his version of breaststroke and have never looked back.
It has worked absolute wonders for me and my back pain.
And it has improved my swimming ability no end.
So much so that I’m one of those people gliding effortlessly up and down the pool.
And you could be too.
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.
This took a heavy toll on me mentally and you can read my full story here if you are interested.
However swimming has been 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.
- Made me feel fit and strong in myself again.
- Kept me flexible and agile.
- Made my core muscles strong which provides more support for my back.
- Lowered the amount of day-to-day pain that I experience.
- Given me so much more energy which allows me to live a fuller life.
- Helped to maintain my fitness levels which makes me more capable at work.
- Boosted my confidence and self-esteem.
Overall swimming regularly has been a complete game-changer for me.
And things like carrying heavy tools or climbing up and down ladders is no longer a problem for me.
In fact swimming has become so important to me that even when planning holidays now one of my big requirements is that there is a pool nearby where I can get my daily swim in.
Because it eases my back pain.
It makes me happier.
And I feel more relaxed fitter and healthier.
And anything that does all that can’t be bad!
The good thing with swimming is you don't need to become the worlds greatest swimmer to feel these benefits.
So you don't need to swim every day or bust out 100 laps per session.
But just finding the time to fit a couple of hours swimming into your life every week can make a huge difference.
And you could reap the benefits for yourself and feel great too.
Can Swimming Aggravate A Bad Back?
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, physio or pain-expert so you should always check with your doctor or physician before embarking on any new exercise programs.
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.
Because of its intensity and physical demands the butterfly stroke is 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 do not 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.
I swim with a gentle breaststroke and count to about 50 laps in that time and it’s perfect for me.
As I don't get any aches, strains or muscle tiredness.
In fact the opposite is true.
As my swim leaves me feeling refreshed and energised afterwards.
So keep your intensity levels sensible and swimming shouldn't cause you any back problems.
Swimming is a great way for those of us with chronic lower back pain to stay fit and active.
And just a few 30-minute sessions every 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 are 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.
Hopefully you'll feel the same way after giving it a try.