Swimming is an activity that exercises the entire body. It’s also an activity that many people find helpful for easing back pain. One benefit of aquatic exercise is that the buoyancy of the water helps lessen the stress on joints. People who have difficulty tolerating even low-impact exercise on land often report no difficulty doing the same exercises in the pool. Swimming also:
- — Strengthens back and core muscles
- — Provides a good cardiovascular workout
- — Relieves stress
Which Swim Strokes Are the Best For Back Pain
The four most common swimming strokes are:
- — Freestyle
- — Breaststroke
- — Backstroke
- — Butterfly
Each of these strokes uses different muscles and movement patterns. In general, the goal of back pain rehabilitation is to promote pain-free movement in all direction, but initially some people may find certain strokes more tolerable or beneficial than others.
Axis of Rotation
One way to categorize these strokes is based on the axis or rotation they use.
Freestyle and backstroke use a long axis of rotation. This means the body is rotating around a line traveling from the head to the feet. These strokes will promote more trunk rotation, or rolling of the body. Most people do well starting with freestyle and backstroke unless they are really limited with trunk rotation. One way you can reduce the amount or trunk rotation with freestyle is to use a mask and snorkel. Using a snorkel is also a way to limit rotation movements of the head which may be helpful for anyone who finds freestyle breathing a strain on their neck.
Breaststroke and butterfly are short axis strokes, meaning the axis of rotation is across the waist and hips. These strokes will cause more back extension rather than rotation.
Breaststroke is an easy stroke to execute and generally well tolerated. Some people with back pain may find they don’t tolerate it well because of either the amount of back extension used for the stroke or the leg movement. The butterfly is a physically demanding stroke and probably should be attempted once the other strokes can be performed pain-free.
A less common stroke called the side stroke is also an easy one for most people to perform and probably deserves some consideration.