Pool Pain

Hi Chris,

I am 65 years old, in pretty good condition, retired recently, trying to keep trim swimming, the only exercise I enjoy. Are there specific exercises one can do to lessen lower back pain, while in the pool? It is a chronic condition and has been checked by several doctors.


“Esther Williams”

Dear “Esther”

Good for you for being recently retired. I envy you. Well, it looks like you are off to a good start by being active and swimming is a great exercise. I don’t have a background in aqua fitness so can only speak from limited knowledge and from my own past experience of back pain. I’m going to assume that you experience most of your pain on forward bending. There are three good things to do for that kind of pain. (If you have a different kind of pain, send me another letter!)

The first is back extension exercises. While lying face-down, do a half-push up (also known as thecobra or “sloppy” pushup). If you like, you can also do this from a standing position in the water. Place your fingers on the small of your back and reach your thumbs forward to those two bony bumps on your hips (called the iliac crest). Then lean back into the stretch while exhaling. Do this slowly ten times. That should help to alleviate pain.

The second thing is to strengthen the segmental stabilizer muscles. These deep muscles stabilize the vertebrae of the spine. The easiest ways to strengthen the front stabilizers is to perform Kegel exercises, which are usually prescribed for other reasons but have been shown to be helpful for this. To strengthen the back stabilizers, do a slight lower back extension. While lying face-down, slightly tilt your tailbone towards the ceiling (i.e. stick your butt out). I would practice these out of the water, however.

The third thing you can do is keep your abdominal muscles tight while swimming. To do this, draw your navel towards your spine. Keeping your abs tight will not only strengthen them but will also help strengthen the muscles that run along the length of the spine (these and the abs are both part of the global stabilizers). This will go along way to relieving lower back pain.

If you continue to have problems, consider making an appointment to see a physiotherapist. Look for one who does athletic or sports therapy. There are many good ones around. He or she should be able to recommend other specific exercises to do while in the pool. You might also consider attending an aqua-fit class and speaking with the instructor beforehand about your back condition.

To your health


Information on stayingstrong.ca should not be used for diagnosis, nor should it be considered a replacement for consultation with a healthcare professional. If you have questions or concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.

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