How Does Swimming Help Relieve Pain From Lumbar Stenosis?

If you have lumbar stenosis, you already know that it can cause considerable pain in the lower back and legs. You probably also know that doctors recommend exercise to relieve the symptoms. You may be wondering how you can exercise regularly when simply moving causes excruciating pain to radiate through the lower back and legs.  Swimming may be an answer for you.

Why is Swimming Good for Lumbar Stenosis?

Swimming is a low-impact aerobic exercise known to bring relief from lower back and leg pain from lumbar stenosis. Because the body is partially suspended in water, the effects of gravity are less, causing less stress on injured nerves, muscles and joints. But, the physical benefits of swimming are only part of the picture. Both the physiological and psychological benefits of swimming play a role in relieving your pain from lumbar stenosis.

Physical Benefits

  • Swimming relieves the pressure on the spinal column that can occur with walking or sitting. This in turn relieves the pain associated with the compressed nerves responsible for lower back and leg pain. The initial relief opens the door for further benefits.
  • Physical movement in water relaxes tense muscles that can contribute to the pain experienced with lumbar stenosis. Tense muscles increase the pressure against inflamed or damaged nerves, relaxing them gives them a chance to recover and begin the healing process.
  • Swimming helps control your weight, which also means less pressure on nerves, joints and muscles. Weight reduction is one of the main goals for managing pain from lumbar stenosis.
  • It also improves the range of motion in your muscles and joints and keeps you flexible. That means you will be able to move more freely with less pain. The more you move, the better you will feel.
  • The aerobic exercise from swimming also increases blood flow to the injured area and brings life-giving oxygen to the cells, speeding healing and recovery.
  • A 2011 study involving rabbits (and rats) with crushed sciatic nerves showed that swimming after a sciatic nerve injury increased nerve regeneration, improved nerve impulse speed and minimized muscle weakness. Although tests have not been performed on humans, scientists are hopeful that the results will translate to humans. More studies are needed to support this theory.

If you find swimming difficult, try the backstroke. This position takes pressure off the back while it is supported by the soft caress of the ocean waves. (Okay, so maybe the waves aren't from the ocean, but you get the idea.) It also allows a good range of motion for your muscles, which is one of the things you should aim for in recovering from back problems.

Psychological Benefits

  • Swimming stimulates the release of neurotransmitters, like serotonin, that elevates mood and promotes the production of ANP, a stress-relieving hormone. This in turn reduces stress, anxiety and depression, all of which affect your perception of pain.
  • Going to the pool (or the ocean) with a friend or colleague gives you an opportunity to participate in physical activity with others. This builds your social competence and self-esteem and draws your thoughts away from your pain.
  • Participating in activities you enjoy keeps you active and feeling good about yourself. People who feel good about themselves tend to experience less pain.

If you are new to swimming, talk to your doctor or physical therapist about exercises you can do in the water before you begin swimming. No one expects you to swim 20 laps in your first visit to the pool, but with practice and patience, you may be surprised to find that you look forward to your time in the water and can accomplish much more than you ever dreamed.

Visit a site like for more information on lower back pain relief.