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How to Swim with Chronic Back Pain

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How to Swim with Chronic Back Pain

Summertime is the perfect time to enjoy pools, lakes, and other prime locations where you can go for a nice, relaxing swim. If you are among the 30 million or so Americans living with chronic back pain, however, you may be hesitant about taking a dip as temperatures rise. But there are some steps you can take to safely swim even if you have some degree of recurring back pain.

Use Proper Form

You’ll be more likely to trigger chronic back pain symptoms if you are not using proper form. Be especially mindful of how you move your arms and position your spine with front strokes, like the breaststroke and crawl. Also, keep your body as steady and level as possible as you swim, and avoid temptation to lift your head too high since this throws off your head-shoulder-spine alignment.

Avoid Painful Strokes

The area of your spine affected by chronic pain will determine which strokes you should avoid or modify. If you have upper back or neck pain, for instance, stick with side or back strokes and stay away from front strokes. If you have chronic lower back pain (LBP), avoid strokes that create shear force across the various structures in your lower back area with repetitive hip/torso rotations.

Use Swimming Accessories

There are many handy swimming accessories that can ease stress on your spine and its supporting muscles as you swim. A snorkel, for example, eliminates the need to keep turning your head to take breaths. Goggles can help you minimize head movements that might otherwise trigger neck or upper back pain, and noodles, wet vests, and other flotation devices help you maintain good form and posture as you swim.

Get Some Exercise Between Swims

You’ll be less likely to be distracted by chronic back pain symptoms if you exercise as much as possible when not swimming. Your doctor or an orthopedic specialist can offer suggestions for forms of exercise that can help you strengthen the muscles you need to use while swimming. Also, do stretching exercises before and after you swim to properly warm up and cool down your spine-supporting muscles.

Swimming may stimulate your spine-supporting muscle groups in a way that’s safe and less stressful than land-based exercises if you pay attention to form and take a break if you notice an increase in back pain. But should swimming ultimately be a bit too stressful for your spine, ask an orthopedic specialist about water (aquatic) yoga and other water-based activities or exercises that may be more appropriate for you.