View Full Version : arthritis and swimming

November 25th, 2016, 10:43 AM
I'm going to see a neck and spine specialist this week to figure out why I have chronic neck pain. I've read on the arthritis foundation website that they don't recommend freestyle swimming - in fact it's one of the exercises they say to Not do - for neck arthritis. I am very much worried that the doctor's going to diagnose arthritis, which runs in my family, and tell me no more freestyle, breaststroke, or any other swimming that requires turning or lifting my head. Aside from using a mask and snorkel, I can't figure out a way around it.

Do any of you have arthritis in your neck? Usually, swimming is one of the best exercises for arthritis, but apparently head turning causes inflammation and pain. Am I to be a part of the shameful shower cap, noodle crowd? Input appreciated.

November 25th, 2016, 11:01 AM
I'm in my mid-50s and have never had arthritic issues with my neck. But I do get occasional upper back and neck pain. It's usually due to a misalignment. So, I see a chiropractor on a monthly basis for simple alignment corrections. I know there are some people who don't condone chiropractic treatment, but I've gotten a lot of relief from them with simple realignment manipulation that physicians usually want to correct with surgical procedures. And I'm not against surgery either...when and where it's needed. But chiropractic can possibly be simpler and cheaper in many cases (and may be covered by your healthcare insurance). A good, honest chiropractor will tell you early-on if he doesn't think he can help you. It might be worth it to give it a try.


November 25th, 2016, 12:37 PM
Prescribing "no movement" seems odd to me. I thought movement was supposed to help, at least to slow down the progression of the disease. That said, "

November 25th, 2016, 01:13 PM
Prescribing "no movement" seems odd to me. I thought movement was supposed to help, at least to slow down the progression of the disease.

Concur. I'm a firm believer in that whole "A body in motion tends to stay in motion..." thing.


November 25th, 2016, 02:39 PM
This is what the Arthritis Foundation website says about neck arthritis exercises:
Do: Walk on a treadmill or in the shallow end of the pool; ride a bike, or cycle on a stationary bike or recumbent cycle; swim, using the backstroke; use elliptical machines; do flexibility neck exercises (such as head turns and tilts); yoga and Pilates; tai chi; warm-water exercises.Donít: Overhead serves in tennis or volleyball; bikes with racing handlebars; any abdominal exercises with hands behind the head; ski machines; lifting weights above your shoulders; swimming freestyle or using the breaststroke; diving

November 25th, 2016, 03:37 PM
Thanks for that Denise. I see "Do: ... flexibility neck exercises (such as head turns and tilts)" and "Don't: ... swimming freestyle or using the breaststroke". The latter would seem to be roughly the same as the latter (free == head turns, breast == tilts). Actually, if done correctly, I doubt there is much head tilt happening in modern-day breaststroke. Clearly, ask your doc, but I wonder if mixing in a little bit of free and/or breast with mostly back would be acceptable as "flexibility neck exercises".

November 25th, 2016, 05:49 PM
I see they also advise not riding a bike with "racing" or drop handlebars, and my custom bike has them. Pfffffft.

You're right, smontanaro, the usual turn in freestyle shouldn't be an issue. I'll see what the doc says, but I'm hoping it's just a disc problem and not arthritis.

November 27th, 2016, 08:16 PM
If you swim freestyle and breaststroke correctly, your neck stays in alignment without a twisting or lifting motion. In freestyle, you should rotate your core at the waist rather than turn your head to breathe. In breaststroke, you should be looking down into the water (rather than straight ahead) when you breathe as if you have a neck brace on. The cervical portion of your spine should remain in alignment with the thoracic part of your spine.

I have a boatload of cervical spine problems (bridging osteophytes, degenerative disc disease in three discs, and more...); BUT, I have NO neck pain now BECAUSE I swim, and do Theraband PT exercises and yoga after I swim. Seriously, if you saw my x-rays, you would have the same frightened look on your face as my doctor did when she called me out to the hallway to look over my x-rays.

I would recommend watching videos of proper freestyle and breaststroke technique on YouTube and play close attention to the neck movement (or lack thereof) in each one. A safe bet would be watching Total Immersion or Go Swim videos; or, catch videos on Swimspire's website.

PT would also be recommended, so you can learn proper exercises for your specific needs.

Good luck!


Allen Stark
November 28th, 2016, 11:01 AM
I totally agree with Elaine. If you find free aggravates your neck,try a center mount snorkel.

December 1st, 2016, 11:33 AM
Saw the doc and no arthritis, phew. He says even if it's a bulging disc I can swim, and in fact, it's good for me. I can lift weights and do anything I want, so I'm off to the pool tomorrow before pt.

December 2nd, 2016, 10:30 AM
There is a British swimming regime called the Shaw Method, based on the Alexander Technique of relaxation. It's principally for teaching people to swim who tense-up in the water, particularly in their neck and shoulders. It's obvious you are an experienced swimmer and certainly not nervous of water, but it might have some application for you that you could investigate and adapt.

December 5th, 2016, 01:03 AM
Denise, swimming itself doesn't cause arthritis and just like you said that swimming is one of the best exercises to treat arthritis. This statement is 100% true. Although arthritis foundation have suggested you not to do swimming but I would suggest you to get in touch with a swimming coach for this. I believe that if you maintain a good position then you should have no problem in swimming and it will actually help you to treat your problem. But a slight error may result in many problems later on. Therefore, a swimming coach will be able to help you out in this thing. An endless pool will also be highly beneficial in this case because it will give you full image of what you are doing and what your actions are plus your coach will be able to provide you personal attention continuously. Hope this helps!

Nancy H.
December 6th, 2016, 10:22 AM
I have arthritis in my neck (and a boatload of other neck issues, too, some stemming back to an old injury and others the result of decades of desk work). I swim 4-5 miles per week, a mix of strokes, kicking, pulling, drills, etc. I also do drylands 2-3 times per week: a mix of cardio, weights, and strength exercises given to me by my physical therapist. If I stay on this regime, watch my stroke mechanics, don't slack off on my drylands, and don't try to go crazy with the yardage, I'm fine. I would not, for example, try to do a two mile swim of nothing but freestyle. And when I do swim freestyle, I always alternate the side I breathe on. I do specific sets where I breathe only to the left or only to the right or alternating right and left. And in my daily life, try to remember good posture.

Knock on wood, my neck is rarely an issue. Once in a while, I'll have a muscle spasm in my neck or shoulder that requires PT to get under control, but these days that's the exception rather than the rule. For milder issues, I can work those out myself with foam rollers and strategically placed tennis balls (ow ow ow, but it works).

I assume, based on the little twinges of pain I get sometimes, that I have arthritis elsewhere in my body--my mom has it, and my father had it pretty badly. But I'm living almost completely pain-free (knock on wood), and I credit a lot of that to exercising every day.

So, IMO, you can swim with neck arthritis, you just need to be careful about it.

December 6th, 2016, 04:17 PM
avalon222, thank you for mentioning the Shaw Method. I watched his video and it looks really interesting.

My physical therapist, a young woman who is very much into exercise, still doesn't want me to swim just yet, but I'm having an MRI on Monday which should show what's causing my neck pain, hopefully. I did get to the gym yesterday for some brief cardio and light weight lifting and was pretty sore even after pt yesterday.

I've actually tried to contact Julia at Swimspire about some private coaching but didn't hear back.

December 7th, 2016, 08:18 PM
On the other hand, or actually on the other end of the spine, I was forced to give up running due to arthritis in the lumbar vertebrae and it was swimming that was recommended. I had already been into it for a long time so I was happy to increase the swims while turning the runs into walks. The impact of running was pinching a nerve.