Swimming is a low-impact activity that is typically recommended when a person experiences back pain. Although swimming for back pain can be a good option, like many other exercises, it can have adverse effects when performed with improper form. This includes placing strain on your back. Certain swimming strokes, such as the breaststroke, are more likely to cause back pain.
Back pain can occur after swimming — particularly if you jerk your neck when swimming or kick with less-than-ideal form.
Back Pain in the Pool
Back pain from swimming can result from hyperextending the back. This means you create an arch in your back when swimming instead of keeping the back in a neutral position. According to a May 2012 article published by Sports Health, this position is exaggerated further when swimming the breaststroke and butterfly.
Another cause of swimming-related back pain is repeated jerking of your neck when you turn your head to take a breath. Taking repeated breathing breaks or using improper form when breathing can add to your back pain. Also, twisting while swimming can damage your vertebrae over time.
Read more: How to Loosen Up a Tight & Sore Lower Back
Snorkels and Noodles
To reduce pain after a swimming session, take preventive steps. This includes adjusting the way you take breaths as you swim by rolling your entire body to your side to take breaths. Another option is using a snorkel while swimming, which means you do not have to turn your head to breathe. Wearing goggles can prevent you from turning your head to get water out of your eyes, which can strain the neck and back.
The authors of the October 2012 Spine-Health article warn against the use of training devices — fins, pull buoys and kickboards — which further increase hyperextension of the spine while swimming.
Adjust Your Breathing
One method of improving your breathing while swimming is to focus on the way you exhale. A common swimming mistake is to breathe out unevenly after you have taken a breath. Focus on a steady release of inhaled air, which can extend your breath underwater and help you take fewer breathing breaks. If you try this method and still experience back pain, seek advice from a swim coach who can help you make additional adjustments to your breathing techniques.
Swimming Strokes to Avoid
If you have experienced back pain from swimming, avoid strokes known to cause back pain. This includes swimming with your head above water. If you have a tendency to swim using screwkicks — kicking motions in which you rotate your knees or ankles when swimming — these can place extra strain on your back. Also, kicking out of rhythm when you perform the breaststroke can contribute to back pain. Working to establish your rhythm can reduce back pain when swimming this stroke.
Back pain from swimming can also be prevented by including abdominal and core strengthening exercises in your regular training routine. Consult your coach or a personal trainer for specific exercise instruction.