Swimming and back pain, exposing the clichés

Fitness & Wellness
Written by: Arena at 7 April '17 0
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Swimming has many benefits both physical and psychological. It is a complete sport, suitable for all ages and is useful for increasing muscle tone, strengthening bones and even the skeletal system.

The topic “swimming and back pain”, however, deserves a separate chapter, in order to avoid any confusion and risk of worsening your physical condition.

We must recognize that swimming is not always good for the back and water activities must be approved by a doctor. Let’s find out when swimming is really good for our backs.

Lower back pain and scoliosis: the most common problems

Pain in the spinal column affects many people (about 80% of the population has suffered from this at least once in their life) and can be very limiting and disabling. The cause of lower back pain is most often due to a prolonged and incorrect use of the spine due to overexertion or inadequate posture.

In these cases, swimming alone is not enough to solve back problems which, indeed, may get worse if the swimming approach is not correct. For example, when swimming in breaststroke, during the phase of respiration, movements are performed that are not suitable for you if you suffer from lumbar lordosis, because they may exacerbate the unnatural curvature of the spine.

In cases of scoliosis, more caution is needed, including the advice of a physician before beginning any physical activity. In severe cases, swimming can even be discouraged because, as Fabio Zaina, a known physiatrist from Isico (Italian Scientific Institute for the Spine) says, “swimming can lead to a collapse of the back”.

But don’t be discouraged, you can still do lots of alternative activities in the water, such as water gymnastics and Woga.

When swimming is really good for our backs

In fact, an ideal physical activity capable of solving back problems in a short time doesn’t exist. It is better to ask yourself which rules are right to follow based on your starting physical condition. It is important not to overdo it and to start water activities with an adequate warm-up, carrying them out with consistency and progression. Entrust yourself to an experienced person, before and after, to correct any errors and choose the course that best suits your condition.

Swimming, if done this way, can help prevent back pain by strengthening the muscles that support the spine and abdominals. And if your back pain is mainly due to stress and emotional tensions then you will get the maximum benefit from swimming thanks to the endorphins that can loosen up your muscles and relieve muscle tension.

Yes to freestyle, no to the kickboard

Among the strokes that should absolutely be avoided when your back is not in good form, there are the butterfly and the breaststroke, and all the leg exercises involving the use of the kickboard; however, that also includes freestyle performed incorrectly, with the head held high out of the water. Recommended, instead, is freestyle and the backstroke, when the technique is correct. However, it is better, especially at the beginning, if you are under the supervision of an instructor aware of your physical condition. Once you have learnt the right technique, you will be able to train with a frequency of two or three sessions per week.


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