If you’ve ever considered aquatic exercise for your back pain but stayed away from it because it seemed too easy or less demanding than land exercise, you may want to rethink this.
According to a 2014 meta-analysis published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, aquatic exercise has “beneficial effects on pain, physical function, and quality of life in adults with musculoskeletal conditions.” In addition to this, these benefits were found to be comparable with land-based exercise.
If you plan on using land-based exercise to combat your back pain, aquatic exercise is also worth considering.
About Aquatic Exercise for Back Pain
If you suffer from back pain, aquatic exercise is a great workout option that will allow you to keep moving and strengthen your back while placing minimal stress on it. While most exercises may not seem doable for someone with back pain, aquatic exercise provides a cushion in the form of the water, which allows the participant to move more freely than on land, regardless of pain issues.
Aquatic exercise is great for back pain because it lessens pressure that is normally placed on your bones, joints, and muscles when exercising. This is why you may be able to easily perform certain exercises in a pool that you can’t on land.
In addition to this, water naturally provides resistance to movement. So while these exercises may feel like they’re easier to perform in the water, you’ll be provided with just enough resistance to build up your muscles. This is important for anyone, but especially those focusing on aquatic exercise for back pain.
When trying to protect your back, your focus should be on your core, because these muscles provide support and protection for your back. Therefore, conditioning your muscles through aquatic exercise will only help in your goal of relieving back pain.
Of course, there a number of other benefits not related to back pain that aquatic exercise provides as well. These include improved heart health, reduced stress, improved muscular strength and endurance, and even greater calories burned in less time. However, the best part of aquatic exercise for back pain is that you can participate even if you don’t know how to swim.
What You’ll Need
While a class may provide you with equipment, if you’ll be exercising independently, you may want to buy your own. In addition to the basics, such as a towel, flip flops, and sunscreen, certain equipment will allow you to get the most out of your aquatic exercise.
Wrist or ankle weights. These weights strap on to you and will help you by increasing resistance when you move your arms and legs in the water. Although we already know that water naturally provides resistance, this will help, especially if you’ve been working out for some time and would like to add some intensity to your workout.
Foam dumbbells. These dumbbells are very lightweight when they’re dry, but once submerged, they absorb water and become heavy. This is another tool you can use to increase resistance when exercising your arms.
Hand paddles or resistance gloves. Like wrist weights and foam dumbbells, these will enhance your workout by increasing resistance and will help develop your strength.
Kickboard. This piece of equipment is great for staying afloat, especially when working on your core and lower body.
Buoyancy belt or flotation vest. Like the kickboard, these will help you stay afloat. However, unlike the kickboard, because they attach to your body, you won’t have to put any effort into holding onto it to stay afloat. These may be particularly helpful for anyone who is not a strong swimmer, or those who choose to exercise in deeper water.
Although the buoyancy of water may give you the feeling that you’re not working out as hard as you would on land, and working out in the water will keep you cool even on a hot day, you’ll still need to drink plenty of water. Even though you may not feel it, aquatic exercise will cause you to sweat, so replenishing with fluids is important.
The following are some guidelines for staying safe during aquatic exercise.
If a pool has been heated about 90°F, or 32°C, avoid using that pool to work out in as it may be too warm. In addition to this, if you feel lightheaded or dizzy, nauseous, faint or weak, pain or pressure in your chest or upper body, or are unable to breathe, stop exercising.
Exercises for Back Pain
Now that we’ve covered the basics of aquatic exercise, here are a few good activities to try for back pain relief.
This is great for a beginner’s exercise or as a warm-up for your workout.
You should start in water that is at least waist-high, walking across the pool with your arms swinging as they would if you were walking on land. Be conscious of your feet, making sure that you aren’t walking on tiptoes, and keep your back straight. Correct posture is equally as important in aquatic exercise for back pain as it is in land exercise. It may also help to engage your abdominal muscles. This will engage your core muscles and help you avoid leaning to either side.
Using equipment such as wrist or ankle weights, resistance gloves, foam dumbbells, or some other form of resistance equipment will help condition your muscles by increasing resistance. Water shoes can also be used to increase traction.
You can use your kickboard for resistance exercise. Stand up straight with your legs at a comfortable distance apart, and tighten your abdominal muscles. Extend your right arm and hold the kickboard on each end.
Keep your left elbow close to your body and move your kickboard toward the center of your body. Return to your starting position and repeat this exercise 12 to 15 times. Then extend your left arm and perform this exercise on your other side.
This exercise will help strengthen your leg muscles. To do this, tie a water noodle or place some other flotation device around your foot or water shoe. In waist-high water, stand with your back to the side of the pool and place your arms on the edge of the pool for stability. Straighten your leg in front of you and flex your knee to about a 90-degree position.
Return to your starting position and repeat this exercise 12 to 15 times or until you feel tired. Move the flotation device to your other foot and repeat this exercise.
Back Wall Glide
This is an exercise that will activate your core and lower body muscles.
To do this exercise, hold onto the pool’s edge, bring your knees into your chest, and press your feet into the wall. Push off from the wall and float on your back as much as you can. Then draw your knees back into your chest, press your feet down to the bottom of the pool, and run back to your starting place.
Do this exercise for 5-10 minutes.
High-Knee Lift Extensions
Similar to the back wall glide, this exercise will help strengthen your core and lower body muscles. You can also use ankle weights to increase the difficulty of this exercise.
Start by standing in waist-high water, and activate your core muscles as you lift your right leg, bending your knee until your leg is level with the water. With your leg lifted, pause in this position for a few seconds. Then extend your leg straight out and hold this position for a few seconds. After this, slowly lower your leg, keeping it straight. Repeat this move with your left leg, and continue this for 5-10 minutes.
This exercise will also strengthen your core and leg muscles, and ankle weights can be used to increase the challenge of this exercise.
Start by holding onto the pool’s edge or a kickboard, and begin flutter-kicking your legs. After this, scissor-kick your legs open and closed, then do a breaststroke kick with your legs. Finally, follow this with dolphin kicks. Do each kick for 1-3 minutes.
Aquatic exercise for back pain is very effective, but more importantly very safe. While you can injure yourself, and you should definitely make sure to use proper form and posture to avoid this, your risk of injuring yourself is far less than when exercising on land. In addition to this, now that summer is in full swing, it’s a perfect way to stay active while beating the heat!
There are also many more exercises you can perform than the ones listed here, but these will get you started can help you alleviate back pain. You can also add exercises that will strengthen other muscles in your body because aquatic exercise is great for full-body workouts. So get your flip flops, towel, water, and hit the pool!
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