In many cases, swimming can be a very helpful exercise for back pain sufferers. Athletes commonly become injured and swimming is a great way to keep active without putting excess strain on a swimmers back. However, that is not to say that swimming can’t cause back pain or injuries as well.
Sometimes lower back pain can be caused from swimming when the muscles in the lower back become hyper extended, or over stretched, during the breaststroke or other forward stokes. In addition to hyper extension of the lower back, the cervical spine, or upper spine and neck, can also become injured while swimming. Repetitive jerking motions of the head during frontward stokes could also seriously injure the area.
The neck and cervical spine are particularly prone to injury while swimming. The anatomy of this area of the spine is very complex and is composed of seven vertebrae surrounding the spinal cord, which extends downward from the brain. Stretching outward from the spinal cord are nerves which travel to muscles and other tissue throughout the body.
To prevent back pain while swimming, it’s crucial that you use proper form and techniques. Unnatural or awkward movements while swimming can easily damage tissue through the back, so it’s important to maintain the correct stokes and movements. In addition, swimming with sidestrokes or backstrokes can also minimize stress on the back when compared with frontward strokes. When doing the front crawl or other forward strokes, make sure to roll your body when taking a breath and avoid jerking the head backwards so that you can reduce strain on the neck. Using a snorkel can also help reduce the awkward movement of the neck by reducing the need to adjust the head when taking breaths. Wearing a mask or goggles can also reduce unintentionally jerky head movements while trying to get water out of the eyes. Boards, life vests, or other types of floatation devices can also help maintain proper form while swimming.
If you are actively involved with swimming and are experiencing neck or back pain, seek the advice of a coach or more experienced swimmer. If they spot you while swimming, they may be able to determine if something is wrong with your stroke and can advise you on proper technique.
Specific swimming strokes can cause their own unique back injury problems. Here are some items to be aware of when doing certain strokes:
- For the freestyle, make sure you do not rotate your head too much when taking breaths. In addition, do not let your head move up too much or deviate from the axis along the length of the body. Deviating from this axis, or over rotating the head, can easily lead to neck and back injury while swimming. Also, when you’re not going up for breathes make sure you keep your head looking downwards. As already mentioned, rolling too much can easily lead to damage.
- With the backstroke, muscles along the front of the neck tend to become fatigued if you have not done that stoke in a long time. Make sure to ease into this stoke and avoid over doing it.
- When doing any flipturns, tuck your head in and don’t have it extended outward from your body.
- For the breaststroke, keep your head and neck still, while gently raising the head and back to take breathes.
When back pain becomes a problem there are several methods to help relieve discomfort:
- Stretching, icing, and using over the counter medications such as ibuprofen are also very conservative ways to help reduce discomfort with mild cases of back pain.
- However, with more serious pain, more serious forms of treatment may be required and seeking the help of a chiropractor or physical therapist may be more beneficial. With chiropractic manipulations, pain can often be relieved in many instances, but not necessarily for everyone.
- Physical therapy is a common treatment for back pain ailments. Physical therapists design specific exercises and routines that are intended to both strengthen the tissue in the back while increasing flexibility, helping to minimize back pain.
- Back braces are also a common way to treat back pain since they help to limit awkward movements and aid in the treatment of injured tissue.
If swimming continues to be painful it’s important to stop and seek the advice of a physician in order to stop back pain. By continuing to swim despite continual or worsening pain, the condition affecting the back may become worse and more serious forms of treatment may be required to reverse discomfort. Only in rare cases is surgery required to reverse ailments that affect the back. However, there are still instances where surgery may not be enough to completely reverse back pain conditions.
In many cases, swimming can actually help back pain. Swimming is an activity that is good for you, and it also does not usually strain or add significant weight to the back. This makes it a great alternative for those looking for an exercise that won’t aggravate their neck or back, as well as any other conditions that may be affecting their bodies. However, repetitive or awkward movements in the pool can lead to injury, so it’s important to learn the proper safety methods and techniques to avoid injury to the back