As a swimmer I am biased when I say there is very little for which swimming isn’t beneficial. But even thinking objectively it is a fairly accurate statement. Another area for which swimming is particularly useful is in the rehabilitation of injuries. I am using the word “injuries” here in a very broad sense, and for this article will focus on back injuries.
There are a few main reasons why swimming is a good rehabilitation tool:
- It is low impact. (Unless you are training to be an elite swimmer at which point you will be putting your body through a more intense, higher impact workout.)
- It is a form of active stretching - swimming technically will ensure full range of motion movements for many different body parts.
- It provides just enough resistance from water to provide, over time, sustained aerobic conditioning to the rehabilitating subject, allowing them to continue to workout while rehabbing at the same time.
For back injuries swimming is particularly useful because swimming is not weight bearing. The water mostly supports you, and you swim close to horizontal, releasing most of the pressure associated with exercises where you need to stand. Now that pressure is not completely eliminated, and obviously the back is still engaged while you swim. Playing around with strokes can help alleviate some of this pressure further. Swimming backstroke is likely one of the best strokes for back injuries as you lay in the water in the supine position, allowing the water to support your back, in contrast to the other three strokes which are performed in the prone position.
My case was not severe and I was able to swim. In severe cases, swimming may initially not be a possibility, but getting in a pool and doing low impact exercises in an aquatic environment are a good starting point in rehabilitation. Start with getting in the water to chest level and walking the pool, eventually add some arm movement and gradually progress to full on swimming. This is a common recommendation by neurosurgeons for post-spinal surgery rehabilitation.