Living in Florida with pools and spas literally everywhere, I’m often asked whether water exercise might be better for back pain than other forms of exercise.
The answer is yes and no. The clinical research shows that patients with chronic low back pain can gain substantial relief from pain, reduce disability, and improve quality of life with water exercise, but when compared to other forms of exercise, it isn’t significantly different than other forms of exercise. Nevertheless it does offer some advantages over land-based exercise.
It is important to understand that no exercise program can cure such conditions as degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis and spondylolisthesis. Pain related to these conditions may be relieved temporarily, but recurrent flare-ups of increased pain intensity will likely continue without a more aggressive treatment.
That said, if you think that exercising in water appeals to you, I highly recommend giving it a try and encourage you to find a water-based exercise class led by a qualified health professional.
Water exercise can include standing, or floating exercises, swimming, and water walking. Flotation devices can be used in water to allow back floating, or to increase resistance to strengthen muscles. Spa treatments in even warmer water can involve jets that relax and massage muscles, increase blood flow and increase flexibility.
Whether it is called water exercise, hydrotherapy, pool or aquatic therapy, many people find the idea of movement in warm water an attractive way to increase their activity level.
Several studies have shown that, particularly for people who have been sedentary, water exercise can decrease levels of back pain and disability, increase quality of life and improve health-related fitness in adults with chronic low back pain.
It is likely to be especially helpful for people whose chronic pain makes land-based, weight bearing exercise difficult due to the intensity of their pain, whereas water therapy offers buoyancy to ease the effect of gravity and the warm water can increase circulation and flexibility. Water also offers gentle resistance allowing strengthening and conditioning, as well as improving balance while reducing risk of injury.
For those reasons, water therapy exercise is most likely to help people with osteoarthritis, advanced osteoporosis, muscle strains or tears, and It can help some people with chronic back pain as buoyancy can relieve compression-related pain and relax muscle spasms associated with pain.
Another beneficial property of water is called hydrostatic pressure. This refers to the equal amount of pressure exerted on all surfaces of an immersed body, something like support hose. The pressure on the chest wall during regular water exercise resists and strengthens the muscles that expand the chest for breathing, which over time can improve circulation to muscles, which can lessen muscle pain.
Taken all together, these benefits of water exercise can promote development of an exercise regimen that minimizes the weight placed on the spine (axial load) and reduces risk of injury due to unintended movements during exercises.
At Dr. Michael Gomez the emphasis is on providing a personalized approach to each patient’s needs. Our goal is work with you to find the optimal outcome for your condition. We take an integrated approach working with partners in specialized physical therapy and other specialists in low back pain to help you achieve the optimal pain relief for your low back pain.