Is Swimming Good for Sciatica?

Swimming may be a beneficial exercise for alleviating sciatic nerve pain.

Sciatica is a term often mistaken for an actual medical condition. However, sciatica is a symptom of an underlying disorder that results from compression of the sciatic nerve, which originates in your spine and runs down the backs of your legs into your feet. Swimming may be a beneficial exercise for alleviating some of the symptoms of sciatica pain.

Symptoms of Sciatica

Sciatica pain can cause a number of symptoms, some of which can leave you unable to move without extreme discomfort. One of the most easily recognizable symptoms of sciatica is a shooting or radiating pain that starts in your lower back and travels into your buttocks and down your leg. Other symptoms include tingling feelings or sharp pain in your hips or buttocks, or feelings of numbness in one or both thighs or in other areas where the sciatic nerve runs, such as in your calf muscles or feet.


Benefits of Swimming for Sciatica

Keeping yourself active and mobile may seem like the last thing you want to do when you're suffering from sciatic pain, but exercise may be one of the most beneficial ways of alleviating sciatic nerve pain. Not only does aerobic exercise such as swimming promote the release of your body's natural pain-relieving chemicals known as endorphins, it may also help to reduce pain by taking pressure off your spinal nerves. Swimming and other forms of water exercise promote feelings of weightlessness and buoyancy that counter the effects of gravity on your body while strengthening your muscles and keeping you physically active.


Strokes to Avoid

Swimming is generally a safe and beneficial form of exercise for alleviating many of the symptoms of chronic back pain and sciatic nerve pain. However, according to pharmacist and naturopath James B. LaValle in his book, "The Cox-2 Connection," you may wish to avoid certain strokes, such as the overhead crawl, breaststroke and butterfly stroke, which can place strain on your back. The easiest and safest stroke for back-pain sufferers is the side stroke.


Although sciatic pain often improves with specific self-care techniques such as exercise, cold or hot packs and stretching, swimming is not a cure for sciatic pain. Medication, physical therapy, epidural steroid injections and even surgery may sometimes be necessary for more serious cases of sciatic nerve pain. Consult your doctor before you start swimming to make sure that it is a safe exercise for your condition.