Swimming regularly can strengthen muscles in your whole body, including your back. Overuse and improper form can lead to back muscle strain and potential inflammation. However, swimming may also benefit back pain, if done properly. Resting, correcting your technique and strengthening various muscle groups can help prevent back injuries. Talk to your doctor about your back pain and learn proper technique from a swim coach to prevent injuries.
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Swimming and Back Pain
Injuries to the back can occur in several ways while swimming. During the crawl or other front strokes, you can hyperextend the muscles in your lower back by overarching. While coming up for air, you may pull your upper body out of the water too far, overextending your back. Repetitive hyperextension can lead to strained or pulled muscles in the lower back and around your spinal column. Jerking your neck out of the water, rather than rolling onto your side, to breathe can strain the muscles in your neck and upper back, causing inflammation, stiffness and pain.
Muscle Strains and Inflammation
A strain is the stretching or tearing of muscle or tendon -- a fibrous tissue that attaches muscles to bones. Strains of the lower back are common occurrences, according to MayoClinic.com, and can range from mild to full rupture. Mild or first degree strains are characterized by muscle tightness, slight pain during movement and possibly mild swelling. A complete rupture or tear of muscle or tendon tissue signifies a third-degree strain. Severe pain, loss of strength and motor function is common, as is bruising and inflammation around the injury site. Moderate strains fall between the two extremes. For acute injuries and to reduce inflammation, rest and ice applications for 20 minutes three times per day is recommended.
If your swimming technique is causing your back pain, learning proper form and correcting bad habits can alleviate your symptoms and improve your performance. Correct technique can promote strong back muscles, minimizing pain and decreasing chance of injury. Performing back or side strokes puts less stress on your back and neck; you may be able to swim without pain using these strokes. Keep your body level in the water by engaging your abdominal muscles. Roll your body sideways to breathe, naturally allowing your face to surface, rather than lifting your neck and head.
Using a snorkel and mask or goggles while swimming can eliminate the need to turn the body and head to breathe. Flotation devices like kick-boards can also help you maintain proper form, particularly if your doctor recommends swimming as a form of rehabilitation. Warm up before any strenuous workouts and stretch after swimming to help prevent stiffness.