Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

Complaints regarding back pain have increased recently due to the improper posture and lack of physical activity. There is no doubt that swimming is a great way to cool off while being active and beneficial for all ages. However, even swimmers are complaining of back pain despite swimming is a very good physical activity. Let us understand whether swimming can aggravate or cause back pain and how.

Can Swimming Aggravate Back Pain?

While back pain often gets relieved with certain exercises and swimming being one of the best all round exercises, some people may have more trouble with it. Such experiences have raised the question, can swimming aggravate back pain? The answer to this question is, yes it can if it is not done properly or if your body is not completely fit for it.

Swimming is a fabulous physical exercise which helps in attaining a fit body. However, if not done properly, swimming can aggravate or cause back pain. Hence, one needs to be very cautious while swimming with regards to the posture, and the ways of doing it.

Some of the main reasons why swimming can aggravate back pain include the following.

  • The lower portion of our back remains hyper-extended during front stroke while swimming. In some people, this is one of the main causes that swimming can aggravate back pain.
  • The upper position of the back may be jerked backwards again and again while inhaling and exhaling when swimming.
  • During the backstrokes, the muscles of the swimmers become hyperextended or stretched and cause back pain.
  • Repetitive use of elbow while swimming can cause lower back pain as well as lead to repetitive injury.
  • Lifting the head out of water for breath places lots of stress on your back and the surrounding muscles causing the pain to aggravate. This too is a common reason that swimming can aggravate back pain.
  • Poor core stability and weak gluteal muscles are also the probable causes of back pain being aggravated.

Can Swimming Aggravate Back Pain? - Risk Factors

Swimming is indeed a great exercise and can help to relieve back pain for many people. But there are certain risk factors that determine if swimming can aggravate back pain.

  • Overuse of devices such as kickboards, handle paddles and pull buoys
  • Poor head and body position in the water can cause pain in the lower back and spine
  • Sudden over-training can cause fatigue and weakness
  • Tight hip flexor can lead to increased stress and loading on lumbar vertebra, and thus causing back pain.

How to Prevent Back Pain from Getting Aggravated Due to Swimming?

No matters, whether you are young or elite swimmers, there is a high possibility of pain and injuries to the lower back. As it is true that swimming can aggravate back pain due to some imbalances in the posture or due to overactivity, you need to take necessary steps to prevent it. The most common advice that one gets from the physicians is to take rest. Take time off from swimming and rest as much as you can, this approach doesn’t reduce your productivity but allow the inflammation to settle down before you return to the pool. This greatly helps to relieve back pain and you can easily resume your form again.

The most important factor to consider while swimming is that with the proper attention and guidelines, swimmers back doesn’t cause or aggravate any pain. So, it is important to learn proper safety methods and prevention to avoid pain and injury to the back.

Essential Advice for Swimming with the Back Pain

After understanding that swimming can aggravate back pain and knowing the possible risk factors for the same, it is important to know the ways to prevent it.

Breathing Adjustments to Avoid Back Pain Aggravated by Swimming. The only effective method to improve breathing while swimming is to look at the way you exhale. Unfortunately, many unskilled young and even some elite swimmer do a common mistake i.e., after inhaling, they breathe out unevenly. In order to perform correctly, focus on steady exhalation of the inhaled air. This will also help you to take a fewer breathing breaks.

Spinal Flexion Turns to be Avoided. Practically, there are two types of turns; the open turn and the flip turn. The former one is easiest to perform and doesn’t cause any pain; but the latter one is a little bit complex if it is not done properly. By doing flip turns, swimmers would normally touch the wall with the feet and push as powerfully as possible. In this position, swimmers experience pain in the spine. The only solution is when you are approaching flip turns, bring the knees towards the chest and minimally flex the spine. This will prevent the back pain from aggravating.

Swimming Uphill. When swimming, we aim to be in our best posture and swimming with the chest elevated is the common problem. When swimming uphill, you will experience water pressure on your leg, feet, and hip. On the whole, this position over-activates the lower back muscles, putting them under high stress. Rather than swimming uphill, perform downhill and you will feel lighter, and thus, not aggravate back pain.

Breaststrokes. It is observed that many elite breaststrokers keep their hip low and arch their lower back as they rise for the breath. Unfortunately, this style may breakdown disc and other sensitive structures of the lower back. To avoid this kind of force, all you need to do is, when breathing breaststroke, move the hips forward for the breath, as opposed to arching the lower back.

Lifting Back during Butterfly causing Back Pain. When swimmers breathe while moving forward and lift their chest high, they are likely to over-activate their muscles, and increase the chances of injury. While swimming, always keep your head as low as possible, do not lock your elbows, pull down your head and then push your chest forward. Also, consider swimming with a device if swimming aggravates back pain.

Rounded Back Start should be Avoided to Stop the Back Pain from Aggravating. Like the turn, one should avoid rounding their spine as a beginner. If pressing the hips back and keeping the chest and head in an impartial position can diminish the level of weight on the lower back, it should be opted. This might make the beginning also more manageable.

Start with Water Therapy. If swimming aggravate back pain in your case, you can start with water therapy. In this exercise program, the warmth of water relaxes the muscles, allowing the nerves to work properly and soothe the pain effortlessly.

Snorkels and Noodles to Avoid Aggravation of Back Pain. If you experience back pain when swimming, rather than rolling the entire body to take the breath, use snorkels while swimming. By using snorkels, you can take breaths without turning your head. Along with that, you can use aqua noodles which can support your back while swimming thoroughly.

Conclusion

Although swimming is a great all-round exercises, it must be done in the current manner. It is true that swimming can aggravate back pain, if it is not done properly or if you are suffering from back problems. If the above mentioned techniques don’t work effectively, it may be helpful to seek medical opinion. The doctor may advice rest, physical therapy, over-the-counter medication or back braces. The duration for which a swimmer needs to be off the pool depends on the factor causing the pain and the extent of damage.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: March 5, 2019

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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