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Swimming for Injury Recovery

Exercising in water can help people recover from a variety of injuries.

Swimming isn’t just a way to cool off in the summer heat: time in the pool can also relieve pain and improve recovery from a wide range of injuries, including knee and back pain and can help even after you’ve had surgery.

Research shows that swimming and aquatic exercise can help people with injuries rebuild strength, increase range of motion, improve cardiovascular fitness, and more. Here’s what you need to know before you dive in.

How swimming helps

We all need exercise to stay healthy — even after we’ve suffered an injury. Because the buoyancy of water takes stress off the joints, swimming and other aquatic exercises are low impact and non-weight bearing, making them easier on the joints than many activities on land.

At the same time, water workouts aren’t easy. Water resistance challenges muscles and can help an injured person build or rebuild strength in the arms, shoulders, back, legs, or core to better support the joints. Swimming can also offer a challenging cardio workout and is a form of active stretching that can loosen up stiff muscles and ligaments.

For instance, if a knee, foot or ankle injury is preventing you from participating in your favourite physical activity or sport and you don’t want to lose your cardiovascular endurance, swimming is a great way to maintain or even increase your cardiovascular endurance while rehabilitating your injury — you may even find that your performance has even improved when you’re able to return to your activity or sport thanks to this cross-training.

Don’t go it alone

While swimming is relatively gentle on the body, some movements can exacerbate certain injuries. Check with your doctor or physiotherapist to make sure it’s safe for you to jump in the pool this summer. An evaluation from a physiotherapist will help you determine what kind of water activity is best for your body and how you can prevent further injury.

Different folks, different strokes

If it’s safe for you to swim, ask your physiotherapist to suggest strokes that would be safest for you. Those who’ve suffered back or neck problems, for instance, might be wiser to do a breaststroke over a butterfly or freestyle stroke, which both involve more trunk rotation. The backstroke may be best for anyone concerned about hyperextending their spine (it’s also a fun, easy stroke for beginners).

Form matters

After an injury, your form matters more than ever. Be mindful of your technique and, if you’re a beginner or haven’t spent much time in the pool lately, consider hiring a coach or trainer for both advice and encouragement. Research shows that you’ll get the best results from swimming at least twice a week, but make sure to ramp up your activity slowly to avoid a swimming-related injury.

Can’t swim? No problem.

If lane swimming doesn’t work for you, there are other water-based exercises that offer the same benefits. Aquatherapy (walking or jogging in water) and water aerobics can both ease pain and speed recovery from injury. Most local pools offer a wide variety of classes that would likely be suitable for your age and level of health.

To learn more about swimming for injury recovery, chat with a Summit physiotherapist at your next appointment. New clients are always welcome and a doctor’s referral isn’t needed.