Swimming With A Bad Back – Is It Good For You?

By Michael

November 29, 2018

Did you wake up thinking water?

We’re about to get close to ice cool today! Are you ready to let me help you regain your strength back so you can fully enjoy the depths the soothing blue pool, river, lagoon, beach, lake?

Even with this being such a hot topic of discussion for the past 15 years, there will be no more room for assuming after we’re finished.

Swimming is a hot topic because so many people with and without back pain don’t have a single hint about what it really means to “swim” But is that supposed to be a strange phenomenon?

No, not exactly, and I’ll tell you why. There are three different types of people:

  1. Athletes
  2. Casual swimmers
  3. Non-swimmers

Let’s do an experiment with theses three types of personas, and at the end of the three I will explain the results of each incident.

But before, since this article will serve to show you the ways not to swim(with a couple swimming exercises to do right), and so much more valuable information you can’t see elsewhere; you can skip on over to the best ways to exercise in the water here.


Assume that we threw a strong swimmer like Michael Phelps into the water with a bad back, and 1 condition, he has to try his best. Standing inside the water, legs in a clinched position, hands on the inside pool wall, waiting for the sound of the buzzer to go off. BOOM, in less than a mill-second, he’s off, doing the 100-meter butterfly like he always does with ease. 25 meters in, he’s feeling fine, what pain?

Not a second later, after his 40th stroke, he feels a pull in his lower back.

The Casual Swimmer:

This is where most of us average people fall into place, we sure like to imitate a professional swimmer, but It usually 9 times out of 10 doesn’t go our way. Let’s say that you avoided seeing your doctor, and you just wanted to take the afternoon with your friends to hit the waves of your local ocean. It’s a nice hot sunny day, why not right?

So as you are staring at this monstrous amount of water in front of you, you lay right in with every ounce of guts you have. You’re likely to be swimming at this point to get yourself acclimated to the water. Your head is just barely poking out the water, but that’s OK, you’re a great swimmer.

The Non-Swimmer

We all have that friend or family member(maybe its you), who doesn’t know how to swim, or is just a novice swimmer. He/she doesn’t want to feel left out, so they take to the dreaded waters of the pool, and hangs out in the 2ft area. Second later, you see them hugging and walking across the border of the perimeter, and signaling, “hey look at me!”

The results:

Why did I leave you with a start, a middle, and no end? Because I want you to finish that story for me. Answer me this question, and keep that each one already has a bad back… Who will get hurt?

Did you say all of them? Awesome! You’re right on track, but if you didn’t there’s no need to worry. The mistake each one of these swimmers made was to go into the water with not being educated on how to swim properly. Yes, that’s right, there is a difference between swimming and doing water related exercises.

Let’s get back to our star-studded Olympic medalist(I always forget how many times) Michael Phelps for a moment. His mistakes step-by-step were as followed:

  1. Went into the water
  2. Had a fast start
  3. Was doing the breaststroke
  4. Training Hard

The butterfly and especially the breaststroke place a huge amount of strain on the lumbar spine, not to mention that all that water rushing to the back is pounding on each vertebra, disc, spinal cord, and facet joints. In fact, these swimming exercises add so much pressure to the facet joints, it’s already known as butterfly back syndrome, seriously!

What about the speed and range of motions? The amount of power it takes to generate the speed of a proper breaststroke all depends on the mobility of you lower back. Throw in the:

  • hips
  • knee
  • joints
  • ankles

… And you really see all the mechanics that go into each stroke. Specifically more so in the butterfly stroke than the breaststroke, this is where your pelvis can push out into an anterior pelvic tilt position(forward locked), and that’s because you’re putting your lower back in repetitive flexion and extension of your trunk.

This will cause your facet joints in your vertebrae to compress very tightly, and the result will be muscles spams, and continuous pain. Also, the thing is, you don’t have to be a very good swimmer to cause a painful infliction, you could be someone who is very competitive and likes to make their workouts as high impact as possible.

The Casual Swimmer:

What about the every day casual swimmer that just wanted to get out for an afternoon swim at the ocean? CALLA BUNGA!

Uh, it’s not quite the time for excitement. Here are where this person got it wrong:

  1. Decided to swim in the ocean
  2. Didn’t protect their back against the outdoor conditions

There’s a right way, and there’s a wrong way to go about getting your swimming in with a bad back, and this person had it completely upside down. The chances of this working out were very slim, and that’s a large in part of the type of environment he/she’s up against.

Whether there were waves or not, the mater of the fact is that ocean water is never settling. It comes and goes, and you really feel the pressure up against your upper torso/chest, and from the back end to your upper and lower back. One movement of water, before they even took a stroke would have been enough to worsen their pain.

The Non-Swimmer:

Sorry Mom, I love you but I can’t help myself to think how not so well of a swimmer you are. We all have this person, or are this person. You wouldn’t think they would be at risk, or that they would be of less risk than the other two above, but that’s not true.

Someone who doesn’t know how to swim is much likelier to worsen their pain come time to paddle, then someone who knows how. Why?

Awkward motions. If I couldn’t swim, what would it look like if I tried? My arms would likely be flailing left to right, forward, and backwards, My legs wouldn’t be kicking out correctly, not to mention my head is barely sticking out. This will cause your body to do twist and turns just to adjust, and in the process cause tons of damage to your:

  • Spinal disc
  • facet joints
  • vertebra
  • muscles
  • joints

All the pressure at one point will fall on your lower back to raise you back up.

How To Correct The Results?

What’s this guy trying to do, tell me I can’t swim with a bad back ever? I’m telling you the opposite. Swimming is a great exercise for anyone who has a bad back, or as I like to refer to, as a chronic lower back pain.

Just because you can’t do your favorite swim moves impersonations, or if you’re an athlete who has a long list of back problems, doesn’t mean you should shy away from the “blue lagoons”.

In fact, many people take to the waters to improve their mobility, movements, posture, and soften the pressure on their lower back pain. I’ve had people come up to me and tell me that they can’t bare to stand up, walk, or move around.

The one thing I tell them is to get into an even lower-impact activity. As opposed to walking on land, swimming creates a greater cushion around your joints, allows for your synovial fluids to move around in ease, and takes all the pressure off your lumbar spine.

Exercises To Give An HONEST Go

Ofcourse with the bad comes the good, and these are a couple of the insanely easy to do water exercises:

#1 March

I am not asking that you turn into a water soldier, but as the name states, this will take some marching from you.

How to do:

  1. Walk yourself into a pool
  2. Gingerly walk around the perimeter of the pool
  3. Walking around twice will work best
  4. Make sure to keep your posture as straight as you can

#2 Knee to Chest

It’s parent land brother “knee to chest” will be the same concept in the water.

How to do:

  1. Walk into the pool(if you haven’t done so already)
  2. This can be done in the middle or edge of the pool for better stability
  3. Raise your knee with or without your hand(the buoyancy of the water can help)
  4. Do this for at least 3 times.
  5. Switch knees and repeat

So these are only a couple of the many swimming exercises you can do right this very day, but if you’d like to see all the water exercises, go here.

The Different Types Of Swimming Environments

Where are you? What does your environment look and feel like? I want you to take a look at your surroundings and future [;aces you will be in. The reason I want you to do this is because it’s as highly important to not do the wrong exercises, do the right exercises, as much as it is to pick the place you’ll be swimming in.

Think about the example I used earlier with the ocean.

This body of water source is:

  • A force to be reckoned with
  • can get bumpy-many waves
  • very cold
  • no perimeter support
  • water can splash everywhere-in your eyes
  • rocks

These are just many of the encounters you’ll find if you take your water exercises to there. Other environments that you can find yourself in:

  • river
  • lake
  • lagoon
  • pond
  • swamp
  • pool
  • indoor pool
  • gym pool

The question is, are they all good? Well, that can be based on multiple factors. Like for example. In a river, there will be many fish, rocks, sloped mudslides for you to do an appropriate exercise, let alone maintain balance. It’s not impossible, it’s just a clutter, and there are a much of variables that are masked below the water for your safety

So you can see where I’m going with this. I can take any example above and give you a clear picture, but ultimately, you want to stick to pools as much as possible.

…And here’s why:

  • Perimeter support
  • People are more aware of the area
  • Levels of Ft
  • Waters usually calm
  • you can schedule a workout with your local gym

… And so much more!

It’s Conclusive, Not All Swimming Is Bad For Your Back

So there you have it, I’ve answered and you’ve answered for yourself is swimming good for back pain?

Swimming with back pain doesn’t have to be a chore and it certainly doesn’t need to hold you back from ever swimming again, and this is how you and everyone else should look at it…

This is a matter of inches, you can fall farther back, or you can spring and splash into action with water exercises. All it takes is a couple of the wrong exercises to cause your bad back to worsen, and develop into a chronic lower back pain if it hasn’t already.

Being aware and educated on the type of swimmer you are will help you understand how to protect your joints, what it is you are doing wrong, and what you can do to fix it the next time you hit the water.

We learned a couple of the best water exercises for your bad back, and that you can utilize these very well in a pool. And lastly, we took an extended look at the different bodies of water, and environments you might find yourself in.

For more information on water exercises, click here to see more.

The Remove Back Pain System

Now that we’ve learned what swimming and back pain have going on together, it’s time to take your efforts into the water with these exercises here.


About the author

Hi My name is Michael Granados, I am of the age of 26 years, and I’m a back pain specialist, enthusiast, and expert. All of us have had or will have lower back pain at least once in our lives, and whether it’s acute or a more chronic condition, you can depend on us here at Remove Back Pain to take great care of you. I ensure you’ll take the right and most appropriate steps for you to heal the safest and most productive way. Get ready for a better lifestyle!

  • I am curious about something. I am a non-swimmer and tend to keep to pools or calm lakes that I am very familiar with. I’m not afraid of deep water in those more controlled environments, and, in fact, that is where I tend to hang out. I like to tread water. I find it very relaxing. I’m curious how treading water might affect back pain. I realize I’m not doing a lot of jerky movements, but what about posture?

    • Hi Kelli,

      Great question, and one I’m very familiar with. Treading water feels nice, and it can demonstrate a very good aerobic exercises because you can burn many calories by just doing so. It’s engaging your arms, legs, and all your muscles. I don’t see anything against it,if you’re used to it, and you feel no pain, especially in a controlled environment. The thing to be careful is constantly adjusting your movements in the water. Like for example, sometimes we might kick out foot out in a different manner or move our arms out wide open and back more, where your lower back might push backwards, and yes your posture could get out of balance. Although it’s not seen as a high impact activity, most people have trouble doing it because they haven’t conditioned themselves yet with the other simpler exercises to loosen up their back. Just try to keep your head above water, as straight forward, and your legs as straight as you can. Sometimes we like to push our legs in front, causing our pelvis to slide forward. As long as you maintain decent pressure from top to bottom, I see no problem. Please let me know if I can help any further. Thank you 🙂

  • I am not a swimmer. Hence, I just swim in a shallow swimming pool or a maximum of 5 feet. Your content would really help a lot in understanding the pros and cons of swimming. I experienced a Cervical Stenosis, would swimming help in easing the numbness in my hands?

    • Hi Florencio,

      That’s a great thing! That doesn’t make you any less than someone who can swim in 5ft and beyond, water exercises will you work just as great for someone who can swim in deep waters. But that’s the thing, when we think water exercises, we immediately refer to all the paddling, kicking, and going from one end to the next. It’s quite the opposite, you’re doing stationary moves, moving laterally, and hanging onto the perimeter of the pool. Oh did you? Most definitely! The water acts like a pressure relief system that will create less friction in between your cartilage and help ease pain and numbness, just like it would for your joints, and give it proper cushioning protection. To do so, you need to have a look at the right and all the water exercises in my article right here.

  • Hey!
    You wrote very good article! It is very helpful for those who want to exercise with swimming and also for those who care about their health. And by the way, in last month I also had some back pains and maybe some exercises with swimming could be useful. There are so many informations about this topic that I started thinking about going to the swimming pool tomorrow 🙂

    • Hi Luka,

      You are right! It’s important that anyone who wants to exercise by swimming or for someone who can’t bare to stand and walk on land, take their workouts to the water. That would be great, since the water will make your workout very low-impact, and it will cause no pressure on your joints, muscles, ligaments, and bones. I can’t get enough of it, especially in the summer time, when I spend less time in the indoor pools, and more time out in the nice sun beaming water pools. It doesn’t sound like your back is a chronic one, which most people take to the water for, but either way it will really help you. Awesome! You can’t go wrong with getting in the swimming pool, it feels great and very therapeutic. To get the best out of your back workout, you should take a look at my best water exercises article right here. Thank you and best of luck Luka. Please let me know if you have any questions.

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