Swimming and other types of hydrotherapy are usually considered excellent ways to strengthen the neck and back and overcome or prevent painful injury. The natural viscosity of water adds resistance to pool activities, which makes building muscle even easier than on dry land. Plus, swimming is far less jarring to the spine and joints in the body than high-impact exercises like running. That being said, it is possible for swimming and pool therapy to actually add to neck or back pain if the swimmer isn’t careful. The key is making sure that you know proper swimming techniques and that you don’t overdo your workout.
The benefits of swimming
In addition to being a fun way to spend an afternoon, swimming is a great addition to any active lifestyle. Swimming laps in an indoor pool is also a great way to stay active in the winter. An afternoon in the pool builds muscles in your back, shoulders, arms, legs and neck, improves heart health and helps the swimmer maintain a healthy body weight. Swimming can also be a great way to overcome back pain from a herniated disc, pinched nerve and even bone spurs. By strengthening the muscles that support the back or neck, less stress is put on the spinal column and pain can be overcome. A warm pool also promotes blood flow and helps expedite the healing process.
The problem with swimming
For the most part, swimming is a great way to overcome neck or back pain, but the swimmer still needs to be mindful of the ways it can also cause additional pain. Factors that may increase pain include:
- Overdoing your workout – muscle strain and injury can result from overdoing your swimming session
- Insufficient stretching – before swimming, the swimmer needs to fully stretch to avoid potential damage
- Improper flip-turning at the wall – a flip turn is a great way to maximize the speed of a swimmer’s lap, but over-extension can injure neck or back muscles
- Back stroke problems – the back stroke can be hard on the neck if the swimmer isn’t conditioned properly
- Freestyle neck injury – the swimmer should roll their head out of the water to breathe, not dramatically extend and rotate
Swimming is an excellent way to manage neck and back pain caused by degenerative disc disease and other spinal problems, but it is important to speak with a physician and physical therapist to ensure you aren’t putting yourself at risk for further injury. Visit your physician to diagnose the source of your pain and to determine the best treatment course for you.