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Why Aqua Therapy is Excellent for Your Back Pain

Published July 31, 2017
| Written By SpineNation Editorial Staff   | Medically Reviewed by Jerry Nichols, MD

If you're one of the millions suffering from chronic back pain, hopping into the water to try aquatic therapy exercises at your local pool may be the treatment you need to get pain relief.

Water exercise is a form of low-impact therapy that not only trains but strengthens your weakened muscles and assists your spine for increased support. Unlike exercises in a gym or at home, aqua therapy uses the properties of water to reduce the pain that causes physical stress on your back allowing you to move more freely, which decreases your chances of injury. When submerged to the chest, water reduces 80 percent of the body's weight allowing a chronic back pain patient to strengthen their back muscles. Performed in a warm pool, aqua therapy exercises allow for faster healing since water acts as a pain reliever against the skin as pressure from the water creates resistance making exercises challenging without pain. Being active in the water benefits patients of all fitness levels and ages. Exercises can be modified to suit various goals and conditions.

Simon Fox, a fitness mentor with Lifestyle Essentials, a health and fitness company that focuses on helping people create a fit and healthy life, says, “Water deloads the body, reducing the load on the joints and the muscles. It also assists in providing an environment for you to exercise in warmer than room temperature. This increases joint mobility and the overall viscosity (fluidity) of the joints—increasing the ability to move the joint and blood flow that helps in healing and removing waster produces that may be causing inflammation leading to joint pain.”

Here are ways hydrotherapy helps chronic back pain patients:

  • It's an ideal environment to exercise throughout the year regardless of rain or shine
  • The buoyancy of the water supports a portion of your body weight making it easier to move and improve flexibility
  • It provides resistance to movements thus helping strengthen muscles
  • Pool exercises improve agility, balance, and cardiovascular fitness

Aquatic therapy exercises benefit chronic back pain suffers with varying conditions. Fox says the water “increases warmth around the deep spinal muscles that can be hard to warm [which] increases the ability for the spine to move segmentally.” Those patients gaining the most from their time in the pool combine it with other doctor-recommended treatments. Here are several chronic back pain conditions that hydrotherapy exercises can help treat:

Advantages of Water Exercise for Your Back Pain

In addition to being gentle on lower back muscles, exercising in a pool is easy on spinal joints and allows you greater range of motion with little to no pain. Since water fitness offers more resistance than land-based exercises, aquatic therapies challenge muscles while giving them a complete workout. To help muscles, water helps increase blood flow as well as providing a cardio benefit to your heart and lungs (moving through water is hard work!). “The water forms a support for your weight while also forming a level of resistance to help strengthen the muscles,” said Fox. 

All in all, hydrotherapy treatments are enjoyable, social, and soothing. It makes heading to the pool each day to exercise something you'll look forward to doing a few times each week.

Tips for Getting Started

Here is a quick list of ways to help you get in the pool and begin aquatic therapy exercise treatments to get relief from that chronic pain in your back:

  • Find a pool with varying depths which allow you to work different parts of your back.
  • Take time to warm up your muscles. Walk back and forth in the pool and do gentle stretches in the water to get your muscles prepared.
  • Wear water shoes so that you can perform the exercises without slipping on the base of the pool.
  • For best results, workout in water that hits your waist or the middle of your chest.
  • Use flotation devices to maintain balance when necessary
  • Be deliberate with your movement to get more benefits from your exercises. Keep movements slow and fluid.
  • Add resistance by using kick boards.
  • If you feel pain, let your instructor know and exit the pool.
  • Drink plenty of water. Even though you're in a pool, your muscles are still at work and require fluids.
  • If exercising in an outdoor pool, wear the appropriate protection to shield your skin from excess sun exposure.
Updated: February 19, 2020

Information provided within this article is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for medical advice. Those seeking specific medical advice should consult his or her doctor or surgeon. If you need to consult with a specialist, you may be able find a health care provider in our Specialist Finder. SpineNation does not endorse treatments, procedures, products or physicians.

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Contributors and Experts

Simon Fox, owner of Lifestyle Essentials, has been in the health and fitness industry for over 16 years.