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How can swimming help back and joint pain?

Back and joint pain can be triggered by movements that strain those areas. So it might be tempting to avoid activities that might contribute to more pain. However, avoidant behaviours can lead to a worsening of symptoms over time.

Swimming is a great choice for anyone with pain who may be unsure how to stay active. A recent study found that three months of regular swimming reduces joint pain by 40% and reduces joint stiffness by 30% 1. But what is the relationship between swimming and pain management?

 

Here is what the evidence says:

Buoyancy reduces impact on joints

Water supports up to 90% of your body weight, making movements easier on your joints and back. The buoyancy helps reduce fatigue too, allowing you to use more of your muscles for longer 2.

 

Submersion in water stimulates circulation

When underwater, pressure is exerted over your entire body. This boosts circulation, helping your whole body stay oxygenated while you swim, and has been linked to reductions in stiffness and pain 3.

 

Swimming relaxes your nervous system

Swimming is an aerobic exercise that releases ‘feel-good hormones’ called endorphins that help improve your mood. Exercise also reduces levels of cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’, calming down your nervous system and reducing muscle tension.

 

Swimming improves sleep

The chemical changes that happen in your brain while swimming have been linked to better sleep quality and improved sleep duration. It has been shown that pain is exacerbated by lack of sleep, so swimming can indirectly reduce pain too 4.

Now we know why swimming has many great benefits, what are the best ways to get started?

 

 

Our tips for beginner swimmers:

Avoid strokes that twist the body too much

Breaststroke and backstroke may be good choices because they limit movement of the torso. Listen to your body to understand which strokes are best for you.

 

Swimming lengths is not the only option

Some activities to try on your next pool visit could be push-ups against the wall, arm circles, lunging and even simply walking in the water.

 

Everyone body is different

Take things at your own pace and don’t be afraid to use floatation aids like pool noodles if needed.

 

Bring friends and family

Swimming is great for all ages and can be a fun activity to do together. Or you could go alone for some solo relaxation.

 

How can Boutros Bear support you?

Before beginning any new exercise, it’s best to speak to a specialist. One of our Boutros Bear physiotherapists can provide personalised guidance to help you get started.

Join our Facebook support group to hear from other swimmers with chronic pain and to share your favourite swimming tips!

References

References:

1. Alkatan M, Baker JR, Machin DR, Park W, Akkari AS, Pasha EP, Tanaka H (2016). Improved Function and Reduced Pain after Swimming and Cycling Training in Patients with Osteoarthritis. J Rheumatol. 43(3):666-72

2. Zamunér AR, Andrade CP, Arca EA, Avila MA (2019). Impact of water therapy on pain management in patients with fibromyalgia: current perspectives. J Pain Res. (12):1971-2007

3. Trevisan DC, Avila MA, Driusso P, Gramani-Say K, Araujo-Moreira FM, Parizotto NA (2015). Effects of hydrotherapy on postural control of women with fibromyalgia syndrome: a single arm study. MYOPAIN. 23(3-4), 125-133

4. Jennifer E. Graham; Katherine L. Streitel (2010). Sleep quality and acute pain severity among young adults with and without chronic pain: the role of biobehavioral factors. 33(5): 335–345