What You Need to Know about Swimming with Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain is a real drag on your day, and it can feel especially immobilizing compared to many other conditions.

A lot of lower back pain can be relieved or benefit from swimming: a low aerobic workout that can exercise your back muscles while relieving pressure on your joints and spine at the same time.

But swimming can also cause damage to your back if you aren’t careful.

 Let’s go over what you need to know about swimming with back pain so you can undertake this exercise when necessary to remain active and feel comfortable more often.  

Swimming for lower back pain

Swimming for lower back pain

Why Is Swimming a Good Idea?

The most common cause of lower back pain by far strained or sore muscles and ligaments in your back regions.

While you might think that exercise, in general, is a bad idea, nothing could be more wrong.

And swimming in particular, because it takes place in the water and could, therefore, be described as a “non-weight-bearing” environment.

Basically, the water makes it easy for your body to relax because you aren’t fighting against gravity or using muscles to remain upright while submerged.

And the water has hydrostatic pressure that also helps encourage healthy blood flow to all of the bigger muscles along your back along with subsidiary muscle groups.

In a nutshell, swimming makes it easier for your back to function and exercise without having to worry about maintaining regular form or pressure.

But there is more to it. In the next section we put together some valuable information on what you need to consider:


Water Aerobics

Water aerobics can be an excellent way to condition your lower back and core muscles, especially if you are recovering from an injury or aren’t a strong swimmer.

This exercise can even help you redevelop muscles that became weak or atrophied when you were injured.

To perform water aerobics, you can practice running or walking while in water.

For instance, running or walking in place and water is a great way to elevate your heart rate and stretch out your joints.

You can then progress to actual swimming in movement in the water, which provides gentle resistance all throughout your body and can build up smaller muscles around your joints and back.


How to Avoid Pain When Swimming

If you have lower back pain and want to swim, there are ways in which you can avoid pain and still complete your routine or exercise.

No Shear Forces

First and foremost, you want to avoid any shearing forces. A lot of typical swimming strokes or approaches make a shear force that spreads across your lower back as you rotate your lower spine and hips in repetitive motions.

Shear forces can contribute to your discs and other sensitive structures breaking down over time.

In order to avoid shear forces, you can use a mask or snorkel when swimming underwater.

This will prevent you from lifting your head up for air or rotating your lower back to take a breath. You should also consider working with a coach to perfect a stroke that doesn’t use any shear forces.

They can help you learn how to keep your shoulders lined up with your hips as you swim.

Use Spine-Friendly Strokes

A coach will teach you to do this too, but learning to focus on spin-friendly strokes is a good idea even if you want to tackle this on your own.

Butterfly and breaststrokes require that your spine arches as you stroke, which can add stress to various joints in the back of your spinal column.

On the other hand, backstrokes and freestyle strokes don’t require your back to arch.

These are usually a lot safer if you do them correctly, although they can lead to repetitive rotation in the lower back regions. It’s best to practice these with a coach on hand.

Don’t Hyperextend

Many people accidentally hyperextend their spine when they swim; it’s a natural consequence as you stretch or reach for more water. But hyperextending your spine can cause issues if you already suffer from back pain, particularly in the upper regions.

Those with back pain will need to learn not to hyperextend.

This involves relaxing your neck and keeping your head’s crown pointing forward instead of lifting it up.

You’ll also need to hold your lower abdominal muscles up and inward, which can reduce the movement that your neck experiences.

Use Water Therapy

This tip is especially pertinent if you have atrophied back muscles or experience really egregious lower back pain.

Water therapy is a simple exercise program that allows you to benefit from gentle resistance in water along with the added support from its buoyancy.

It’s basically water aerobics, and you can do it in warm water to relax your muscles even further.

You can join water therapy exercise programs at your local gym or pool, working with others and coaches. These classes usually begin with gentler exercises but become more challenging over time.

 We highly recommend you sign up for one of these courses if you have any lower back pain.  


Overall, swimming with back pain is a great way to maintain an exercise routine and alleviate some of the discomforts that are common with the condition.

Just make sure that you swim with back pain carefully and ask for help either from friends or professional coaches or a doctor when necessary.