Swimming from a medical point of view

Sausis 10, 2020

Swimming from a medical point of view


There is a widespread myth in society that swimming is an unconditionally beneficial physical activity or even a cure for back pain. Often people exhausted by their spinal problems dive into the pool hoping to help themselves. According to the Spine treatment center specialists, unfortunately, often swimming makes the situation even worse. It's hard to believe that swimming can be one of the most harmful sports. Why?

When is swimming beneficial?

It is common to hear that swimming helps with back pain. However, when treating back pain, swimming could be useful only when the muscles involved in such activity meet the limits of physiological norms, and when the swimming motions are correctly performed. Otherwise, successful treatment of back pain with swimming is just a myth.

To evaluate the benefits or harms of swimming, you should first visit a physiotherapist and assess the condition of your musculoskeletal system, including the condition of the muscles involved in swimming. Usually, in the case of back pain, the muscles involved in swimming are already tense and shortened, so if you swim these muscles deviate even further from the limits of their physiological norms and therefore deepen your back pain problem.

Do we know how to swim?

Jonas Girskis, physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor, a neurologist with almost 40 years of experience in the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders often hears from his patients: “What else did my back need – wasn’t my swimming enough?” According to the doctor, this physical activity is not a treatment for back pain. "When it comes to professional sports, swimming is one of the most harmful sports that injure the spine. The muscles of professional athletes are severely tense during swimming and then also abruptly released, causing the small vertebrae of the spine to receive significant force” says doctor J. Girskis.

The doctor notices that amateur swimmers do not know how to breathe correctly while swimming so they often start feeling shortness of breath and as a result, their muscles begin to spasm. In addition, they do not immerse their head into the water correctly and as a result, the neck area is overstretched. “Before suggesting swimming to my patients, I first ask if they know how to swim correctly. If a person with a disc hernia cannot swim properly - is leaning head back like a duck and bending his lumbar area, the situation will only get worse until the person who thinks that he is treating the spine finally finds himself on the operating table," - says the doctor of physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Homework for swimmers

Director and consulting physical therapist of the Spine treatment center Greta Girskė warns - before you decide to swim in the pool, you need to make sure that your latissimus dorsi muscle and posterior leg muscles are not too tense. “If these muscles have lost physiological elasticity, they will create extreme tension on your lower back during swimming. This is one of the reasons why people who swim often start to have lower back pain and their spinal problems are only exacerbated by irregular loads on the vertebrae”, - says G. Girskė and adds that daily proper care of the latissimus dorsi is extremely important not just for swimmer, but for rowers, climbers, and skiers as well.

She recommends the following stretching exercise of the latissimus dorsi to be performed daily: while kneeling on the floor on your shins/knees try to touch your heels with your hips. Then lean forward towards the ground with your arms stretched overhead and try to touch the ground with your fingertips as far as you can reach.

And then slowly slide your palms on the ground to the right as if you were drawing an arc, stop when you feel a stretch on the side of your left shoulder (you might feel the stretch even lower). Hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat 4 times. Perform the same movements also towards the other side of your body. When you stretch the broadest posterior muscle of your back (latissimus dorsi) you stretch the quadratus lumborum (the deepest muscle of the posterior abdominal wall) of that same side as well.

Purposeful exercises are part of your body’s hygiene

The musculoskeletal system consists of over 200 bones, about 650 muscles, and about 230 various size joints. It is a very complex system, and its harmonious work allows a person to feel good and to move freely. Therefore, you need to make constant efforts to take careful care of your body, including your spine. Doctor J. Girskis who has returned the joy of life to many of his patients, says that if we exercise incorrectly and do not restore the physical properties of our muscles, we will start feeling pain. Our body has a limited reserve and when we exhaust it, our body gives us a signal – pain.

“Your body’s reserve is similar to your bank account”. If you will constantly withdraw money and rarely deposit, very quickly you will see that your account is empty. You will have negative consequences if you will take on any sport without the fundamental understanding of body management,” – says J. Girskis. Before you get involved in a specific sport, be it swimming or any other, you must evaluate the main muscles which will be involved and will get the most work done during your selected physical activity.  

Physical therapist of the Spine treatment center Greta Girskė urges us to understand the difference between sports activities and purposeful exercises. In sports activities, it is common to strengthen or stretch all the muscles of the body whereas purposeful biomechanical exercises are used to correct/restore dysfunctional/impaired/weakened/damaged and such biomechanical segments of the musculoskeletal system. Purposeful biomechanical exercises should be a daily routine for the person with back problems. Back pain prevention routine must become a daily habit - like brushing your teeth. “Dedicating fifteen minutes a day to your body often seems like a tragedy to many. However, after leaving the dentist's office, we do not ask if we will have to brush our teeth every day now. There is not only dental but also musculoskeletal hygiene,” explains doctor Jonas Girskis.

Smartwellness.eu/ Spine treatment center

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