View from a physio: Benefits of swimming

A heated pool will allow arthritis sufferers to loosen stiff joints easily

There are many ways to use the swimming pool to your advantage, regardless of your age, fitness level and injury history. Photograph: Getty Images

There are many ways to use the swimming pool to your advantage, regardless of your age, fitness level and injury history. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Swimming is great training for any age group and it has particular benefits compared with other forms of cardiovascular exercise.

Swimming involves broad movements in different planes of motion, which challenge your joints, ligaments and muscles in a unique way. As you reach with each stroke, swimming allows the body to lengthen and stretch out from fingertips to toes to increase flexibility.

One of the significant benefits of swimming is that it exerts minimal impact on your joints, making it particularly useful for those with arthritis and joint pain, or who are overweight.

When you are training, water can be used to assist, resist or support the body, depending on your need. It is an accommodating resistance, which means that as you move faster through it, you encounter more resistance. Every kick and every arm movement becomes a resistance exercise as you swim through the water.

Swimming and pool workouts are often prescribed as part of a rehabilitation programme – the buoyancy of water supports tender muscles and joints, and allows the performance of gentle movements often not possible on land. When immersed at waist-depth, approximately 50 per cent of your body weight is supported by the water; at chest height this rises to 75 per cent; and when immersed to your neck, 90 per cent of weight is supported. This has great implications for the amount of loading we can prescribe for patients with injured joints.

There are many ways to use the swimming pool to your advantage, regardless of age, fitness level and injury history.

After injury, immersion in the pool will help reduce muscle spasm and facilitate gentle movement. An elderly or frail patient will benefit from regularly walking up and down the pool. A heated pool will allow arthritis sufferers to loosen stiff joints easily and the benefits of hydrotherapy are well documented for those suffering with rheumatoid arthritis.

Our balance reactions decline as we age, or with a history of knee or ankle sprains. Working on balance drills in the pool is a great and safe way to improve muscle mass and strength, and improve co-ordination, which is vital for preventing falls.

Swimming is often recommended to runners as an injury-prevention strategy. This is known as cross-training and builds strength and flexibility in muscles that running doesn’t utilise.

So, it seems, it’s time to Get Swimming!

Jenny Branigan is a chartered and accredited sports physiotherapist.