4 Tips for Swimming With Back Pain

If you have back pain, swimming is an excellent choice of exercise for you. It’s a low-impact aerobic exercise, which means that it provides heart-healthy benefits while reducing stress on your muscles and joints, including the spine. However, you still need to be careful when swimming if you experience chronic back pain.

Keep these four essential safety tips in mind if you’re going to try swimming as a treatment for your back pain.

Use Proper Form

Keep the body level in the water and the head down rather than raised as you’re swimming. Make sure that you’re supporting yourself using your lower abdominal muscles, which should be held up and in during these exercises. If necessary, you can rely on assistive devices to help you maintain proper form and add more support for your spine. These can include pool noodles, vests, flotation boards, and life preservers.

Protect Yourself Against Shear Force

Many swimming strokes generate shear force. The repetitive motions using the lower spine and hip movements can impact your spine’s overall health. Over time, shear force can erode the delicate discs and tissue of the lumbar spine.

Consider working with a swimming coach or physical therapist to make adjustments to your swimming form that will reduce this force. Swim with a snorkel and mask so that you can breathe underwater rather than straining your spine to break the surface.

Consider Water Therapy

This type of therapy involves exercises done in warm water, which improves your range of motion and provides additional support and resistance. Water therapy has similar benefits to swimming while reducing the stress placed on the spine. It also relaxes tight muscles and may prolong the amount of time you can spend working out.

Choose Your Stroke Wisely

While every type of stroke will put pressure on your back, you can choose a swimming style that works with your specific injury. Breast and butterfly strokes require you to arch your back, which can stress the joints of your spinal column. Freestyle and backstroke avoid the sometimes painful arching motion, but the rotation of these movements can damage the discs.

Start with gentle movements until you determine those that work best for you.


Swimming provides an excellent way to get in shape. When you do it the right way, swimming can alleviate back pain and prevent further pain by strengthening your muscles. If you’re not sure about getting in the water, talk to a doctor, physical therapist, or even swimming coach. They’ll make sure you’re on the right track to proper spine health.

For continued back pain, contact the professionals at the Marc Cohen Spine Institute. The experts there can both diagnose and treat your back pain, giving you your quality of life back. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, call (973) 538-4444.