Is swimming good for sciatica? This is a common question I receive at least once or twice a month, usually from a patient who wants to increase their fitness level without exacerbating their symptoms. Swimming for sciatica is a popular no-impact form of sciatica exercise therapy embraced by many patients due to its gentle and efficient workout.
Swimming is one of my favorite activities and I highly recommend it to people of all fitness levels as a wonderful and enjoyable part of a health maintenance program. However, just like all forms of exercise therapy, swimming is unlikely to enact a cure for chronic sciatica, although it is possible to provide considerable short term relief.
article will help patients to better understand if swimming might be a
valuable part of a combined care approach to sciatica treatment.
Sciatica can be caused by a great number of possible sources, both anatomical and psychoemotional. Bodily causes of sciatica, such as herniated discs and spinal osteoarthritis, can be very limiting physically and this may make sufferers less likely to seek exercise. However, keeping active is crucial for all people and swimming provides a safe and fun way to move around without the possibility of jarring injury common to higher impact sports and activities.
In these circumstances, swimming is not likely to provide any sciatica relief, but will help to maintain a healthy body and increase cardiovascular capacity. However, many patients, such as myself, do credit swimming for providing a form of pain management. Why does this occur?
If swimming does provide considerable pain relief, regardless of your diagnosis, the most common actual source of pain is ischemia or some other soft tissue pathology. Swimming gets the blood flowing very efficiently and pain due to oxygen deprivation will immediately lessen when exercise is provided to the affected area. Unfortunately, the pain relieving qualities provided by swimming are temporary and will end once the blood flow returns to normal.
In cases of piriformis syndrome, some forms of sacroiliac dysfunction and other muscular reasons for pseudo-sciatica, swimming is perfect as a conservative therapy. Swimming might help relieve minor arthritis pain locally, as well, but is unlikely to provide benefits for any type of nerve compression in the spine.
Patients write to me all the time stating how they have been diagnosed with a particular structural abnormality, such as a herniated disc. They do not even think to question their diagnosis, but will add to their letters that they enjoy the pain relieving benefits of swimming, running or any other vigorous activity.
Somehow, they never make the connection between the activity benefit and the diagnostic error. How can swimming help the pain from a disc which is supposed to be pressing on a spinal nerve root? It can’t. It can, however, increase blood flow to the affected area and temporarily stave off the effects of regional oxygen deprivation. This is logical and represents the experiences of most people diagnosed with a structural scapegoat being blamed for their pain.
Remember this if you are among the countless millions who find a variety of short-term fixes for their sciatica, but no real cure. The cure will likely never come, since the diagnosis may have been flawed all along.
Ending on a positive note, please do enjoy swimming. I do! I actually joined a health club several years ago just to take year round advantage of their pool. It is fantastic. Not as good as the ocean, but still nice. Swimming has really helped me to survive the recurrence of pain that occurred in 2008 and continues to be a daily activity of mine even though my pain is now completely cured.