Swimming as an antidote to back pain?

Often times my patients ask what they can do to help them with their lower back pain. Typically I respond by asking "do you have access to a pool?" Often, I initially get Both a puzzled and quizzical look.

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Typically when I see someone with back pain, they have a whole host of associated findings. These findings include stiff muscles, spasms, tight hamstrings and weak leg muscles to name a few. Often, it's hard to distinguish which is the cause and which is the effect. All we know is that everything hurts. We have to start somewhere. And I don't like to just give medications without giving additional guidance. This is where swimming comes into play.

When you get into the water, with lower back pain, it typically feels like a load has been taken off of you. And, in fact, it has. In the water, gravity is counteracted with buoyancy This leads to lessening of the load that the weight of body applies to the muscles and joints inside the back. The consequence is that with less resistance the muscle can move in multiple planes with less resistance.

But it's not just load that is reduced when you get in the water. The water also counteracts specific movements in which the back is fragile and prone to injury. Specifically, when you bend and twist, the back is particularly vulnerable. These complex motions can easily hurt the back. However, when in the water, trying to twist typically results in "flipping over." This "flipping over" actually teaches your body on how to recruit different muscles when you bend and twist while out of land and can work toward helping you from aggravating your back.

Outside of preventing aggravating motions, water also provides for aerobic conditioning and resistance training. Both of these activities result in extra training for efficiency using your muscles. Efficient muscles can result in efficienct motion and hopefully rusult in less painful movement overall .

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Dr. Rahul V. Shah 
Board certified, Ivy League and fellowship trained Orthopedic Spine & Neck Surgeon.