Regardless of whether or not you suffer from back pain, working out in a pool will offer you so many benefits. A few of the many benefits of pool exercise include a reduced risk of falling2, less pressure on the joints and spine, and having a wider range of motion.4 A 2014 study even showed that aquatic exercise can help alleviate pain, improve quality of life, and even improve a person’s function in their daily life if they suffer from a musculoskeletal condition, such as osteoarthritis. It’s also common to believe that aquatic exercise is easier and may not have the same benefits as land exercise, however, this same study found that is not the case. The results of regularly engaging in aquatic exercise are equal to the results of regularly engaging in land exercise.1 If you do suffer from back pain, exercising in the pool is a great option that will allow you to exercise while avoiding discomfort.
Why Aquatic Exercise is Beneficial for Back Pain
It’s common for back pain to be caused by weak back muscles. This is why water workouts are so beneficial for anyone dealing with back pain. It provides a low-impact exercise that strengthens and conditions these muscles, creating better support for your spine. When exercising in a pool, the water provides your body with a sort of cushion that removes stress from your back, helping you move more easily and lowering your risk of injury.4
Your range of motion is also increased in water, because the water supports up to 90% of your weight, taking pressure off your joints and spine. So if, for example, your back pain doesn’t allow you to perform certain movements such as leg lifts, the water will allow you to perform them much more easily.4
Exercising in water will also allow you to strengthen your muscles with little to no risk of injury. You may not feel your muscles strengthening outside of the water, prompting you to test them by lifting a weight that may be too heavy for you. However, because water adds about 12 times greater resistance than air, simply moving through the water is a challenge. This will help you avoid feeling the need to test your strength in a way that can harm you.4
Moving in water also increases blood flow. The hydrostatic pressure of water encourages blood flow to muscles. This hydrostatic pressure also betters your heart and lung function by requiring them to work hard against it.4
Finally, You may also be able to work out more often and for longer periods of time because water lowers you’re feeling of pain. It’s also easy to modify aquatic exercise based on your goals and specific conditions, making aquatic exercise a great option for back pain sufferers.4
Preparing for Aquatic Exercise
Aquatic exercise is a very common exercise recommended by physical therapists for patients with chronic low back pain. Further, while aquatic exercise is commonly seen as a less effective form of physical exercise, PTJ published a study that found that this is not the case. As other studies have found, PTJ found that aquatic exercise is particularly beneficial for those whose movement is limited by pain. Pain also tends to be reported twice as frequently among those with chronic low back pain who exercise on land.3
Now that you understand why aquatic exercise is beneficial for those suffering from chronic back pain that would like to remain active, it’s important to know what you’ll need in order to start the aquatic exercise.
- Water shoes, for traction on the pool floor.
- A pool with water that is waist or chest high.
- A flotation device of some sort. This can either be a styrofoam noodle or flotation2 belt/vest. This device will help you stay afloat if you’re exercising in deeper water2 and will help remove pressure from your joints when you’re in shallow water.1
- Webbed water gloves, styrofoam weights, inflated balls, or kickboards in order to increase resistance for an added workout.
- Drinking water. You may not notice yourself sweating, but it will still be important to stay hydrated.2
Remember that in the water, slow movements will not provide as much resistance as fast movements, so you’ll want to avoid moving too slowly. Also, as with land exercise, you never want to force your body to continue working through pain. This can cause harm during aquatic exercise just as it would on land. If you feel pain, adjust your exercise or move on to something else.2
Before starting any new exercise programs, it’s important that you consult your doctor in order to make sure that the program is safe and appropriate.
The Best Aquatic Exercises for Back Pain
If you’re exercising to alleviate or prevent back pain, your goal should be to build strength in your back, abdominal, and hip muscles. These muscles are essential in keeping your spine strong and will also help improve your posture and balance.4
Proper technique is also important in order to stay safe when performing aquatic exercise. Because of this, it’s recommended that you work with an instructor that will be able to teach you how to move correctly, at least when beginning. The key is keeping your trunk stabilized and your spine in a neutral position.4
The following exercises are considered the best aquatic exercises for anyone with back pain, or anyone trying to prevent back pain.
Warm Up – Walking and Lunges
You should always warm up before any exercise, and aquatic exercise is no exception. You’ll want to start by walking both forward and backward in waist or chest high water. Start out slowly, increasing your speed as your warm up. You can also jog in place or alternate between jogging and walking for five minutes.1
After this, you can move into lunges. If you feel that you need support, stand by the side of the pool and hold onto it as you do this. However, doing lunges without support will give your core a greater workout.1
When lunging, step forward, and bend your knee. Avoid taking your knee too far forward when doing this. A good rule of thumb is that you should always be able to see your toes. After taking this step and bending, come back up to your starting position, and repeat with the other side. Three sets of ten lunges are recommended.1
In order to perform the pool plank, you’ll need a styrofoam noodle. Hold the noodle in front of you, then lean forward into a plank position. At this point, the noodle should be submerged under the water, and your elbows should be straight down toward facing the pool floor. Your feet should still be on the pool floor. Hold this position for as long as is comfortable, or for 15-60 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times.2
You will not need any additional equipment for this exercise. Start by standing on your right leg, keeping your knee slightly bent and using your right hand to hold on to the side of the pool for support. Then bend your left knee and raise your left leg up until your knee reaches your chest. Lower your leg and complete five reps, then switch sides.4
Start by holding onto the side of the pool with both hands. They should be wider than shoulder-width apart and your arms should be straight. Extend your legs out behind you and spread them apart, allowing you to float belly-down in the water. The water will support your weight, allowing your vertebrae and back muscles to be fully extended and stretched. You can also place your face in the water for a few moments in order to rest your neck.4
Water Kicks and Sideways Walking
A Sidestepping activity of some sort is recommended, so to do this, face the pool wall, holding onto it if you need to, with your feet and toes facing straight ahead. Take 15 steps to one side and 15 steps back to the other, then repeat once or twice more.1
After sidestepping, you’ll want to exercise in the form of hip kicks and hip swings. This will develop your strength as well as a range of motion at your hip, which is important for the health of your lower back. Stand near a wall, again, holding onto it if you need to. Bring one leg forward, keeping your knee straight, then back behind you. Do three sets of ten then repeat with your other leg.1
You can also perform water kicks by moving your leg out to the side, bringing it out and back in, crossing in front of or behind your standing leg.1
Water Work For Your Abs
In deep water with a flotation belt, bring your knees up toward your chest and down again ten times. Repeat this three times. You can also do a more advance version of this exercise by bringing your legs back down, straightening your knees, and extending your body into a line, floating on the surface.1
You can also add twisting into this workout, in order to exercise your obliques. Do this by rotating your knees to either the left or right as you bring them up to your chest for one or more sets of ten.1
Walking is a great warm up and it is a good way to cool down as well. It’s recommended that your cool down lasts about five to ten minutes, and includes hip stretches, done either in the water or on land.1
Aquatic exercise is very good for your joints and muscles, allowing you to get a great exercise without increasing or causing pain. If you’re trying to stay active while living with back pain, this is a great option, especially as we move into the summer months. You’ll even be able to stay cool while you workout!
If you’re someone who’s tried exercises like these, other conservative options, or even surgery for your back pain before and failed to experience relief, it may be time to consider another option. The Discseel® Procedure is a non-surgical and minimally invasive treatment that can allow you to live a life without back pain. This procedure has helped many people suffering from back pain get their lives back! Find out if you’re a candidate by applying today.
- Asher, A. (2019, October 3). A Water Exercise Routine for Back Pain. Retrieved June 3, 2020, from https://www.verywellhealth.com/water-exercise-routine-for-your-back-296860
- Mulcahey, J. L. (2020, April 17). 10 Exercises To Do In the Pool. Retrieved June 3, 2020, from https://www.choosept.com/resources/detail/top-10-exercises-to-do-in-pool
- Psycharakis, S. G., Coleman, S. G. S., Linton, L., Kaliarntas, K., & Valentin, S. (2019, January 23). Muscle Activity During Aquatic and Land Exercises in People With and Without Low Back Pain. Retrieved June 3, 2020, from https://academic.oup.com/ptj/article/99/3/297/5299588
- Water Workouts For Back Pain. (2019, July 26). Retrieved June 3, 2020, From Https://Www.Canyonranch.Com/Blog/Fitness/Water-Workouts-For-Back-Pain/