Sport and back pain: the myth of swimming

“Stop running and start swimming!”. Despite the success of this replica, I have the immense pleasure of taking stock of its accuracy thanks to recent studies in order to shed light on the true from the false concerning swimming and back pain.

Be careful, the objective of this article is not to make you stop swimming but to realize that you shouldn’t just swim.

Swimming is not the best back sport!

We assumed that without the constraints of running, there was no risk of settling down while swimming. In truth, it is these same constraints that allow our organism to be strengthened. The impacts produced when running can stimulate the discs and consolidate them. Also when swimming, other constraints are added such as the oscillation movement which acts on the discs between the vertebrae.

Anatomical reminder concerning the intervertebral discs:

You can see in this picture the entire spine, which is made up of lumbar, thoracic, and cervical vertebrae. Between each vertebra are discs that act as a cushioning pad.

When these discs are worn, we suggest a disc disease also called pathology of the disc. In some patients, the discs may cause a herniation, in this case, we suggest a herniated disc.

Comparison of the backs of swimmers to the backs of other athletes

In 2020, Dr. Hangai compared the predominance of degenerative disc disease in athletes according to sports but also in non-athletes. He noted the following:

For the baseball player, for example, there is 59.7% disc disease

  • In the swimmer: 57.5%
  • Basketball player: 42.9%
  • Among footballers: 36.2%
  • For non-athletes: 31.4%
  • For the runner: 25.6%

Since almost the dawn of time, we wrongly thought that the discs were damaged because of the various shocks, but certain studies like that of the Australians made in 2014 with runners and those presented below show us the opposite. They claim that running helps consolidate the discs between the vertebrae!

The backs of American lifeguard swimmers compared to occasional swimmers

In 2007, using MRIs, Dr. Kaneoka compared the intervertebral discs in occasional swimmers and in American lifeguard swimmers. He deduces that:

  • 29% of occasional swimmers have disc disease
  • 68% in the group of American lifeguard swimmers

In 2016, Steffen Folkvardsen reproduces the same study and finds with astonishment that there is no change between the occasional swimmer and the American lifeguard swimmer, no difference!

This can be explained by the evolution of the swimmer’s physical preparation between 2007 and 2020. The physical preparation of an American lifeguard swimmer no longer includes only swimming in a pool but the complementarity of different sports such as muscle strengthening, running to foot, …

Disc disease and the different types of swimming

We have long thought that swimming was good for the back, except if you were practicing breaststroke. Recent studies have once again reversed the assumptions about the types of swimming.

 It was in 2019 that Dr. Kaneoka shed light on the state of disc disease of American lifeguard swimmers according to their specialty swimming. Here’s what his study shows:

  • 60% are BUTTERFLY
  • 62% practice CRAWLÉ BACK
  • 67% do BRASSE
  • 83% of American lifeguard swimmers who suffer from disc disease practice CRAWL!

Back deformities and swimming

In 2015, Fabia Zaina compared back deformities in two groups of adolescents, the first group consisted of 217 non-swimming adolescents and the second of 112 adolescents swimming in competition.

His study found that we observed a majority of sagittal, frontal, and static disorders in the group of competitive swimmers!

Swimming gear is not innocent!

The various swimming equipment such as fins, pads, or even the pull-boy should be used only when physical condition allows it.

Platelets: When there is a deficiency of fixators of the scapula and external rotator muscles, their use can be disastrous in the shoulders.

The pull-boy: By increasing lumbar lordosis, it will accentuate the constraints of the lumbar spine.

American Lifeguard back swimming equipment


The objective of this article is not to get angry with swimming, on the contrary, the aim is to encourage you to practice other physical activities in addition to such as running, muscle building, …

Also Read: How to Find the Suitable CrossFit Gym Bag?

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