How does swimming affect neck and back pain?

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 thickness 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 neck or back, 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 overextension can injure neck or back muscles.
  • Backstroke problems. The backstroke 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.

Treatment options

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 doctor and physical therapist to ensure you aren’t putting yourself at risk for further injury.

If you have tried conservative therapies like swimming to ease your neck or back pain without experiencing success, contact Laser Spine Institute today to determine the source of your pain and the best treatment course for you. We have helped more than 75,000 patients to date find relief from their chronic pain.

At Laser Spine Institute, our outpatient procedures use muscle-sparing techniques that result in less surgical blood loss and a reduced risk of infection. By conducting a no-cost MRI review,* our dedicated team can determine if you are a potential candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery.