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Back Pain During Swimming

November 26, 2019

Back pain is the third most common muscle/ joint complaint reported in swimmers. Due to the non-impact nature of swimming, it is often recommended as a form of cardio for the general population suffering from back pain. However, the elevated training demands on competitive swimmers are accompanied by increased twisting and torsion forces on the spine which can in turn lead to excess stress on the discs and spinal joints resulting in back pain.

As much as 68% of reported back pain among elite swimmers can be attributed to a degenerative disc. Intervertebral discs divide each vertebrae and act as cartilage or shock absorbers in the spine allowing free movement of the back. A degenerative disc is when arthritic changes occur in the disc, also described as wear and tear in the spine.

Butterfly and breaststroke swimmers carry a higher incidence of back pain among swimmers, with as many as 47% of these swimmers reporting an episode of back pain. This can likely be attributed to hyperextension of the spine that occurs in all swimming being exaggerated in the undulating butterfly and breaststroke styles.

Rehabilitation and preventative measures for back pain in swimmers focuses on the strengthening of the glutes and the primarily the core muscles. Core strengthening in swimmers aims to counter the excessive lumbar extension and spinal rotation exerted on athletes. This is done through focusing on the lower abs and the oblique muscles. Glute and hamstring strengthening help to propel the swimmer forward while reducing any compensation from the lumbar spine.

If you have any questions on back pain, you can contact our Dublin based physiotherapy clinic on 01 441 0100.