Is Swimming Good For Back Pain? -

Is Swimming Good For Back Pain?

By Dr Shoaib Muhammad , published on April 20, 2023
Dr Dusan Sekulic MD

Is swimming good for back pain? The short answer is "yes".

But we've got a blog post to write, so we're going to expand on that just a little.

Swimming is not only good for back pain, it's an excellent low-impact exercise to help strengthen your back and protect it in the future[1]. In fact, research has found that aquatic exercises in general make for big reductions in back pain, also improving range of movement in patients with lower back pain [1].

One huge study found that both swimming and walking were effective in reducing nonspecific lower back pain [2].

So, double points if you walk to the swimming pool...

Nonspecific lower back pain is a super common condition, affecting up to 84% of the population at some point in their lives [3]. The amount of supporting evidence is practically endless, so let's take a look at why swimming is so good for back pain.

Why Swimming Helps With Back Pain

So what happens inside the body during and after a swimming session that makes it so good for back pain?

For one, the low-impact nature of swimming places minimal stress on your joints [4]. In contrast, high-impact exercises like running can make back pain worse by putting pressure on your spine and surrounding muscles [5].

Swimming allows for a full-body workout without the jarring impact of running or weightlifting. That's why swimming is a safer and more comfortable exercise if you have back pain [4][6].

Swimming also engages the muscles in the back, including the erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, and trapezius muscles [6]. These muscles help to support your spine and keep a good posture.

It's tough to maintain a good posture but, trust me, if you can make it a habit, your back will be a lot happier.

If you swim regularly, you can strengthen these balancing muscles, leading to improved spinal stability and reduced risk of back injury [6].

Moreover, swimming helps improve your overall fitness levels, which positively impacts your whole life and not just your back pain [5].

Swimming also engages a wider range of muscles than other exercises, including those in your upper and lower back, core, and arms [6]. This help you get a more comprehensive and balanced workout. That's also important for overall health and fitness, and not just your back pain.

If you have any of these upper back pain red flags, speak with your doctor before you try out swimming as a solution.

An infographic showing diagrams of the four most common swimming styles and info on which is good for back pain.

Backstroke or Breaststroke?

So now you know that it's time to hit the pool, let's look at the different swimming styles and which is best for back pain relief.

We'll explore the best types of swimming for back pain and if they differ for upper and lower back pain.

The Most Effective Swimming Styles For Back Pain

There are four main swimming styles: front crawl, breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly. Each style targets different muscles in your body, so it's good to know which one to use.

Front crawl

Front crawl is the most popular swimming style and is great if you suffer from upper back pain. If you're in the US, you may know it as "freestyle'. It targets your shoulders and upper back muscles, which can help with your tension and stiffness.

That said, it's important to maintain proper form when swimming freestyle to avoid putting additional strain on your neck and lower back [4].


Breaststroke is another swimming style that can help upper back pain. It targets the muscles in your chest and upper back, which can help improve posture and relieve your tension.

Breaststroke is also a slower swimming style, which can be helpful if your doctor has recommended you take it easy on your back [6].


Backstroke is an excellent swimming style if you suffer from lower back pain. It targets the muscles in your lower back and glutes, which can help strengthen these areas and ease your pain. Also, backstroke is a low-impact swimming style, making it perfect if you've got chronic lower back pain [4].


Butterfly is the toughest swimming style and isn't recommended if you've got back pain. It places a lot of strain on your lower back, which can make the pain you've already got even worse [6]. This one's best to avoid. 

Avoiding Techniques That Worsen Back Pain

While swimming is generally a low-impact exercise, there are still some swimming pool activities to avoid if you have back pain. These include:

  • Diving
  • Flip turns
  • Sudden changes in direction in general

These movements can put further strain on your back and neck, which can lead to increased pain and stiffness [4]. They may be fun, but your back won't be happy if you do them.

Tips For Swimming With Back Pain

If your back is sore and you want to start swimming, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Start slow

Remember to start slowly, then gradually increase intensity and duration. This will help prevent excessive strain on your back and allow your muscles to adjust to the new exercise.

Swim with proper form

It's also important to maintain proper form when swimming. It's recommended to:

  • Keep your head aligned with your spine
  • Maintain a neutral spine position
  • Avoid sudden movements or jerking motions [7].

Stop if your pain gets worse

Finally, if you get pain or discomfort while swimming, it's best to stop and check in with your healthcare provider. They can see what's going on and let you know how to move forward [9].

Sometimes the cause of back pain is heartburn. If you think this is the case for you, swimming can help both of these conditions.

Just don't jump into the pool too soon after eating a large meal as that could make the heartburn worse.

Finding The Right Swimming Routine For Your Back Pain.

Swimming is great if you're struggling with back pain, but it's important to know how much and how often to swim for the best results.

Optimal Swimming Duration For Back Pain Relief

According to the American Heart Association, adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. That should be spread out over several days.

When it comes to swimming for back pain relief, the duration of each session depends on individual factors such as your fitness level, the severity of your back pain, and your personal preference.

That said, it's generally recommended to start with shorter sessions and gradually build up to longer ones. For beginners, I recommend 20-30 minutes of swimming per session as a good starting point [7].

How Often Should You Swim To Relieve Back Pain?

Like with exercise duration, the frequency of your swimming sessions depends on personal factors like your fitness level and severity of back pain.

That said, it's usually recommended to swim at least twice a week to see noticeable benefits in back pain relief.

Some studies have even found that swimming three times a week for 12 weeks has the best results [8][10]. As always though, please listen to your body and don't overdo it.

Swimming too often or for too long can make your back pain worse.

Does The Severity Of Back Pain Affect Swimming Duration And Frequency?

Yes, it's good to take the severity of your back pain into account when deciding the duration and frequency of your swimming sessions. If you've got mild to moderate back pain, shorter and less frequent swimming sessions may be best.

However, for those with chronic or severe back pains, you might need longer and more frequent sessions if you want to see a lot of relief. Consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise program, especially if you have a history of back pain [11].

Rest & Stretch Before & After You Swim

Always warm up and stretch before beginning any swimming session, especially if you've got back pain. A gentle warm-up can include light swimming or walking in the water, followed by stretching your back and legs.

As I mentioned above, walking to the pool is great too.

After the swimming session, a cool-down period of gentle swimming or walking can help to prevent muscle soreness and injury. I often recommend stretching the back and legs again after the cool-down period as that can also help [9][12].

Recommended Swimming Time By Experts

Experts recommend swimming sessions that last between 20-30 minutes, 2-3 times per week, to start.

Duration and frequency may vary depending on the severity of the back pain. If yours is especially bad, it may be worth checking in with your doctor before you start. Properly warming up and stretching before and after sessions are all important considerations.

Sciatica, Scoliosis & Other Problems

If you've got one of the common back issues, you might be wondering what types of back pain can swimming help with? Here are five examples:

Upper And Lower Back Pain

Swimming is particularly effective in treating upper and lower back pain by strengthening back muscles [7]. The buoyancy of the water reduces the stress on the lower back, allowing for a greater range of motion and less pain during exercise [13].


Sciatica is a type of back pain that results from pressure on the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back down to the legs. Swimming can help with sciatica pain by promoting circulation and reducing inflammation [14].

Herniated disc

A herniated disc is when the soft tissue inside the disc between the vertebrae in the spine protrudes outward, putting pressure on the nerves. Swimming can help by strengthening the muscles surrounding the spine and reducing stress on the affected area [12].


Osteoarthritis, or spinal arthritis, is a common condition that affects the joints of the backbone. Swimming can help improve joint flexibility and reduce pain in people with osteoarthritis [10].


Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine curves to the side. Swimming can help reduce pain from scoliosis by strengthening the muscles surrounding the spine and improving posture [11].

Other types of back pain that may benefit from swimming include:

  • Spinal stenosis
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Spondylolisthesis

However, I recommend you consult with your doctor to determine the best exercise regimen for your specific condition.

The Bottom Line

Whether you've got acute or chronic pain, regular swimming sessions can help to alleviate symptoms and improve your overall quality of life.

So if you're looking for a safe and effective way to manage your back pain, jump in the pool and start swimming today!

With the right approach and guidance from a healthcare professional, you can make swimming a part of your regular pain management routine and enjoy all the benefits that come with it.

Remember, a healthy back is a happy back, and swimming is a great way to achieve both.


Ariyoshi, M., Sonoda, K., Nagata, K., Mashima, T., Zenmyo, M., Paku, C., Takamiya, Y., Yoshimatsu, H., Hirai, Y., Yasunaga, H. And Akashi, H., 1999. Efficacy of aquatic exercises for patients with low-back pain. The Kurume medical journal, 46(2), pp.91-96. Available at:

Pocovi, N.C., de Campos, T.F., Christine Lin, C.W., Merom, D., Tiedemann, A. and Hancock, M.J., 2022. Walking, cycling, and swimming for nonspecific low back pain: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 52(2), pp.85-99. Available at:

Masiero, S., Carraro, E., Celia, A., Sarto, D. and Ermani, M., 2008. Prevalence of nonspecific low back pain in schoolchildren aged between 13 and 15 years. Acta Paediatrica, 97(2), pp.212-216. Available at: Prevalence_of_nonspecific_low_back_pain_20160206-21338-10zla45-libre.pdf (

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