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Benefits of Water Exercise

Aquatic Therapy Helps Reduce Back Pain


Updated May 01, 2014

The special properties of water can provide you with excellent benefits if you are trying to heal a back injury. Being in water provides a safe environment for working out your muscles and stretching your body. It also allows you to do more than you would on land by eliminating the constraints imposed by gravity.

Water exercise is done in shallow, mid-deep and deep water, depending upon your level of conditioning and the goals of your workout.

Muscle Strengthening

Water exercise can strengthen back, ab and hip muscles, all key for a healthy spine. The flow of water resists movement, and functions similarly to weight training: it gets your muscles strong.

Being immersed in water places pressure all over your body. To build strength, you must work your muscles against this pressure. The deeper in the water you go, the more pressure will be exerted, and the harder the workout will be.

Beginners should stay close to the shallow water, where the floor and sides of the pool can provide stability, if need be. Working in deeper water while wearing a flotation belt will increase the challenge.

Increasing Joint Range of Motion

The buoyancy of the water helps take the load off your joints. It creates a significant degree of weightlessness, allowing you to perform movements with ease. To develop range of motion, the goal is to take each body part through its full path of motion. However, even with the weightlessness provided by the water, it is best to begin gently and slowly to avoid re-injury.

Core Stabilization Exercise

The pool is a great place to work on low back and core strengthening. Exercises that work the hips are good for stabilizing the low back. Water walking, bicycling (deep water only), kicks and ab exercises are common. In general, trunk stabilization is accomplished by first establishing a neutral spine, and then moving legs and arms while the spine stays where it is. Any water depth will provide benefits. Aquatic equipment such as the floatation belt and the dumbbells can support you in such a way as to accentuate access to the core muscles that stabilize body posture.

Another way to develop trunk stabilization in the water is by working on your balance. You can position yourself on certain pieces of aquatic equipment such as kickboards or swim bars (long dumbbells) and try to stay there. You can try to sit, or kneel, or even stand. Balance exercises in the water will cause all muscles in your trunk to work to hold you upright.


Working out in water is relaxing. For many people it is pleasant and even fun. The buoyancy of water takes weight and load off of the joints, which can result in decreased joint pain. Together these benefits of working out in water result in longer and more frequent workouts, providing improved results in the healing or managing of back problems.

Stay Fit While Your Heal Your Back Injury

Has your doctor or physical therapist advised you to avoid weight bearing and/or high impact exercise until your back heals? Many active people who are injured fret over lost time at the gym. But by substituting your normal routine with water workouts, you can minimize the loss of fitness due to the reduced activity. You can also use the opportunity to get strong in the right places, such as ab, back and hip muscles.

Water aerobics can keep your heart and lungs fit. Deep water exercises wearing a flotation device and using other pieces of aquatic equipment can help you continue to get strong even through periods of reduced activity. Because you are not foing weight bearing exercises when you workout in the water, the chances of aggravating your injury is greatly reduced.

Decreased Pain

When you workout in water, you are immersed in a supportive medium that minimized joint pain and makes it easy to move. This works especially well for people with arthritis.

Australian researchers compared water exercise to land based exercise with 60 people who had low back pain, and found that both types of exercise significantly reduced pain in participants.

Sjogren T, Long N, Storay I, Smith J Group hydrotherapy versus group land-based treatment for chronic low back pain. Physiother Res Int. 1997;2(4):212-22.
Konlian, C., Aquatic therapy: making a wave in the treatment of low back injuries. Orthop Nurs. 1999 Jan-Feb 18(1)
Kisner, C., & Colby, L.A. (2002). Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques.Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company.

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  6. Benefits of Water Exercise to Relieve Back Pain

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