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Is Swimming good for lumbar back pain?

I am having lower back pain, with radiating pain in right leg for the last two year. This year in the begining I went and took MRI, in which I came to know that I have disk bludge at L4-L5. After that in May'2013 I went for traction treatment. After that also I didn't get any relief. Then I came to know about one Auyur-vedic doctor and took his medicine. His medicine is really effective. With the medicines I was practicing Yoga also.

Now I want to know that is swimming good for people like me who have lower back pain.


  • LizLiz Posts: 7,832
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    Ron DiLauro


    Liz, Spine-health Moderator

    Spinal stenosis since 1995
    Lumber decompression surgery S1 L5-L3[1996]
    Cervical stenosis, so far avoided surgery
  • I suffer lower back pain as well and my doctor told me to get in the pool at least 20 minutes and 3 times per week. He did not care if I walked or swam. He wanted me to move. Your case could be different. I think swimming would be great for you unless your doctor told you not to swim.
  • dilaurodilauro ConnecticutPosts: 9,849
    spinal conditions since your body weight in the water is less of a factor than on land.

    However, before you go ahead in try anything in a pool, check with your doctor and get their approval. Some doctors do not believe in normal swimming using arms/legs. They prefer the kickboard method.

    My doctors do not want me to do any swimming (since I am a lumbar, thoracic and cervical disc patient), but instead I do a lot of walking in a therapeutic pool (heated to 92 degrees and 4 feet deep)
    Ron DiLauro Spine-Health System Administrator
    I am not a medical professional. I comment on personal experiences
    You can email me at: rdilauro@veritashealth.com
  • Thanks VA Jim and dilauro for ur valuable comments.
  • My experience is that swimming has helped. I wouldn't suggest butterfly - b/c of the arching of the back :-)
    I have always swam so getting into the pool was good for me. As a matter of fact, just thought about trying it again as an alternative to walking now that it's getting really cold out by me.
  • Swimming is typically a great exercise for those suffering from lumbar pain, if you don't notice pain in your specific situation. I suggest swimming or the recumbent bicycle for my patients complaining with similar issues. Just because you have pain doesn't mean you can't stay active!
  • i've had both cervical and lumbar fusions. i swim 5 days a week. i don't like to swim with my face in the water, and i tend to do breast stroke. the arching in order to swim and keep my head above water can aggravate my back. what i find is easier is aquajogging. basically you are upright in the water, which puts less stress on your neck and low back. some people use a resistance belt in order to keep them floating in the water. personally, i prefer to do it without. i also walk in the shallow end dpending on my mood of the moment.

    even the stress of the lap swimming is easier on me than alot of other options. and i have a nice group of friends who keep me company while i'm in the water, making it more of a social event, which i think does just as much for me as the exercise.

    oh, and if my neck starts really bothering me, backstroke is much easier on it. (before my fusion, i was limited to back stroke because of the neck/arm pain.
    Microdisectomy / hemi-laminectomy 6/2010 and revision 10/2010
    Cervical fusion C4-5 and C5-6 9/2011
    Lumbar Fusion L5-S1 6/2012
  • When I had back pain I found that swimming did help me quite a bit! I would suggest you do it unless you have been told otherwise. If you do try it and notice any pain then stop swimming!
  • Swimming was the one thing that aggravated my sciatic symptoms. Something about stretching my arm out and kicking my leg would just hurt. Everyone thought I was crazy, but swimming didn't work for me.

    It seems to be good for everyone else, so give it a try!
  • Thanks
    DNice , ClarkDC , tran92 ,breezy9768 ,UsedToGolf for ur responses.
  • Hi guys. I have always loved swimming, and never had a single issue - except neck or knee pain when doing breaststroke. Been told to avoid this style following a car accident which damaged soft tissues in my neck.

    I have L4-L5 disc bulge and some visible SI damage (from a high fall). 18 months ago I got excruciating pain while lifting something incorrectly. I lost my job, and got an MRI. At this point I tried to keep mobile and exercise but no swimmin g was possible without feeling pain near the SI joint.
    When I 'got better' I started slowly to do a few lengths, and finally started enjoying swimming all summer, two or three times a week. Twenty lengths, or a bit more.
    In October, following a cold, I stopped for 2 weeks. I was also feeling that pain was returning after a massive decluttering of the house, up a ladder, walking around the house, squatting a lot. I was so well, I thought I could do more ;-(

    Then I went back to the pool, and started taking notes on my calendar. Every time I go for a swim, I'm in pain the day after, and it lasts a few days. Last swim was Saturday, and the only difference is that the pain started after I walked out of the pool into town. 'Did not wait till the morning after.

    The only difference between previous swims and the last month is that I was taking taxis to the pool in the last month. So possibly I had not 'warmed up' enough. Also, I tended to return home on foot.

    I'm going to try walking to the pool, then rest after a swim rather than walk around. I'm pretty down about this because swimming is one of my favourites. And walking, which is a bit harder now in Scotland.

    I wonder - all summer I hardly used my legs, just swam with my arms, only using legs minimally. could that be the problem? My Pilates instructor forbid me to use straight leg rises of any kind, and I'm thinking the motion is similar to that of swimming.

    Any more swimmers out there, please do comment.


  • SavageSavage United StatesPosts: 5,427
    Curious about your coment, when you 'got better'.
    I may being missing it, but not sure if you had any treatments, meds, etc...to feel better.

    For myself, when all my spinal issues first appeared, I would have treatments and meds and feel better and would resume my activities...twisting, lifting, bending..etc...
    So, I'd go back to doctor, who finally got it through my head that it means...for me...permanently, no bending, lifting, twisting.

    There are members who have described their changed styles for ability to swim.
    You may find some of those current posts, I read one today, and there are former posts.

    You spoke of Pilates instructor and sounds like use it as guide when in water, without taking into consideration the weight and resistance of water.
    Just to say, sounds like you're kind of guessing and when it comes to the spine you probably want to be sure!

    But mainly, everyone is so individual that what one can do with similar spinal issue may be harmful to another.
    Have you double checked with your spinal doctor?

    His understanding of your medical situation is best to assess and guide you for proper movements to not cause other injury, pain, or newer symptoms or such.

    He may want you to rest and slowly reintroducing the swimming...I dunno....
    But asking doctor is always best, I think.
    Spine-Health Moderator
    Please read my medical history at: Medical History

  • I have the same issue like Joemon. I am doing swimming everyday, but not much relief. We have to swim any style that relief pain, frog style, free style, or dog style. After swimming, I did Jaccussy (warm 43 ºC or ice water 17 ºC). Thanks for all your information. I learnt a lot from your comments.
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