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“Would Swimming help?

By Lorraine Carroll
“Would swimming help?” As a Chartered Physiotherapist I am regularly asked this question. The simple answer is… probably yes.

Swimming will help if you are a moderately good swimmer but is not a useful exercise if you cannot swim well or at all.

The original term for water based exercise was hydrotherapy, meaning rehabilitation in water at near to body temperature.
Best done in water considerably warmer than a standard public or leisure centre pool, heat is very relevant in water based rehabilitation, as the pace and quantity of exercise may not be sufficient to keep the person warm over the course of a 45 minutes session.

The main benefit of water based therapy is the buoyancy effect of water. Essentially, in water body tissues are matched by the natural buoyancy of the water. This means that body weight is virtually eliminated.

Using buoyancy principles, weak muscles can be assisted to work much better than on dry land. With body weight eliminated, a stiff body part will also move much more easily.

Hydrotherapy can be tremendously helpful in neurological rehabilitation and in orthopaedic conditions. Degenerative spines, hips and knees are often painful on regular weight-bearing exercise, especially if the person is overweight. Immersion in warm water can provide a pain-free window during which exercises can be performed to increase joint movement, stretch tightened tissues and strengthen weak muscles.

So, as summer approaches, what can you do on your own in the local pool or nearby beach that will help?

The simplest advice is to use backstroke as your main swimming stroke. In back stroke, the weight of the body is suspended on or near the surface of the water. Arm action in backstroke is superb for toning the long muscles of the back, especially in the part of the stroke where the hand enters the water above the head and pulls down to beside the hip.

The leg kick addresses muscle strengthening of the buttock and thigh. The spine gets a superb workout as arms and legs power through the water improving both lumbar extension and rotation. Thus backstroke provides four distinct benefits just from the stroke action alone.

However, to get optimal benefit, you need to get really good at it and do as much distance as possible without stopping… at least 8-10 lengths at a go in a regular sized pool to make a difference to your back. For general fitness and cardio-vascular training you should be doing 30 lengths at least each session, preferably without a break.

If you have never mastered backstroke, or you keep bumping into fellow swimmers, front crawl is next best from a general strength and mobility viewpoint. Again, building up to 30 plus lengths should be your goal.

What about everyone’s favourite stroke, breast stroke? Unfortunately, Chartered Physiotherapists agree that this is the least helpful stroke. In breast stroke the angle of the lower spine and hips can cause an increase in pain and symptoms, aggravating back and neck pain.

Swimming is brilliant exercise and is safe in most cases. If you have any doubts, consult a Chartered Physiotherapist.

Then grab a costume, hat and towel and get going… add the benefits of water based exercise to your life.

Copyright TherapyXperts

Lorraine Carroll is a Consultant Chartered Physiotherapist and practices at TherapyXperts Mount Merrion. Tel: 0818 333 611.
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TherapyXperts: Registered business address: Kandoy House, 2 Fairview Strand, Fairview, Dublin 3, Ireland|Phone: +353 818 333 611|Email: info@therapyxperts.ie
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