Swimming for a Bad Back?

Lots of people recommend it. And many back pain sufferers confirm that swimming makes their back feel better. But when I observe people with a bad back in water, I don’t often see anything they’re doing that’s likely to help fundamentally. Usually they’re doing too much.

The water offers us freedom of the head at the top of the neck, release and expansion of the torso, and looseness of limbs. We need to do very little to get these benefits. But it doesn’t take much for us to throw them away.

Swimming can help us find quietness in the head, neck and back and in the nervous system. It’s really important to enjoy this and to prevent disorder and overexcitement. 

Back pain sufferers need to do things that bring both relief from pain and joy from the freedom of simple movement in water. 

A useful question to ask is, What’s happening with my breathing?  Am I overdoing it, imposing a breathing pattern on myself, or letting it happen? I recommend really simple activities which allow your neck to be free, your back to be whole, and your breathing to be easy.

Staple activities for anyone with back problems are:

  • Floating face down like a jelly fish, gently letting air out
  • Bobbing up and down vertically, keeping head away from tail
  • Gliding on the front with a free neck, eyes on the pool floor/ sweeping the hands back through the water to create effortless movement then regaining the feet in a calm and coordinated way. 
  • Swimming on the back is a useful addition but if there’s tension in the back of the neck and holding in the pelvis, you may need to avoid it.
  • Rotating from the back all the way on to the tummy then resting in the support of the water before regaining the feet. This can be a lovely way to lengthen your spine.

If pools aren’t set up to accommodate people who want to float about and move in calm water, rather than swim lengths, there is a problem with the way pools are being managed. 

If we limit ourselves to swimming activities that cause no stress or harm, we’ll almost certainly do our back some good. Prevention is the cure.


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