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Just Keep Swimming

Dominic Bolt
May 24, 2023

Our osteopaths love to set swimming as their patients homework but why? What is so special about swimming? 

Anyone suffering from a flare up of osteoarthritic pain knows that although exercise is the best thing for them their increased joint sensitivity can make this tricky. Swimming allows us to exercise the whole body against some resistance without requiring the swimmer to carry all their own body weight. This can create a good level of stimulus to fuel recovery without causing any further flare ups. So how should we go about getting started? Are there any other benefits? We hope to give you everything you need to know below.  

So, Why Swimming?

Historically…there is evidence to suggest we have been swimming since 2500 BCE in Egypt, Rome and Ancient Greece, although maybe our ways of swimming have changed, just a bit. Initially it became a part of martial training. Proof indeed, it gets you fit! The Romans built swimming pools which were distinct from their baths, so it was definitely seen as a different kettle of fish than just bathing - more of a fitness kick than relaxation.

Swimming first became competitive in the UK in the early 1800s. By 1837, London had six indoor pools with diving boards! The first recorded swimming race, however, was a 400m race in Australia in 1846. Go figure! No wonder they have such a good track record in the Summer Olympics. Go Thorpey! (Or is it Thorpedo?) Here's Hackney Baths…a good while ago! Some of the buildings have remained the same.

Why Go Swimming?

Whether you're an active person or not, swimming is a great way to exercise for everyone (I promise!.) And here's why:

General Fitness 

Of course, swimming helps you sustain a good level of fitness. It works out your heart and lungs, strengthens muscles and builds stamina and endurance. It is a great way to work out your whole body. Plus, swimming can improve lung capacity, even increasing lung size and reducing symptoms of asthma.

A Non-Weight Bearing Activity 

As swimming is a non-weight bearing exercise, it is especially good for you if you find weight bearing exercise difficult, for example, if you suffer from osteoarthritic knees or hips, are pregnant or a wheelchair user. It can also help in recovery and rehab after injury, giving a lighter alternative to gym based exercise, yet retaining the resistance element.

A Social Activity

Swimming doesn't have to be about getting your head down and swimming lengths. It can be social too, with classes like aquafit and HIIT aqua aerobics offered at most leisure centres, which is great for fitness as the water acts as a resistance against your movements making your muscles work harder. There's also the option of swimming lessons for adults if you're not a confident swimmer. 


The human body is a natural buoy, as we are made up of water and our lungs are filled with air, so just floating in the water can be relaxing for you, both physically and emotionally. 

What's more, cold water swimming can really improve mental health, and reduce pain. Brrr! Just ask that cool dude, Wim Hof! The Ice Man 

The Science Behind the Wim Hof Method 

Jumping into cold water may not be everyone's idea of fun but early research suggests it may have some substantial benefits. The cold water has been shown to kickstart our cardiovascular circulation, influence our nervous system and can provide a natural boost to our immune system. Not only this but it has been linked to release of endorphins making us feel great too!  Even better, there is some early research suggesting that it can aid in the suppression of pain. But be careful, if you’ve got chronic pain you may find cold temperatures very uncomfortable, a phenomenon known as cold hyperalgesia, in which case you may prefer warm water more. At least work up slowly if you are considering cold water immersion! 

Vary Your Techniques 

If you are using swimming as part of your rehab remember to do the following:

  1. Swim or walk in the pool - walking is a useful form of exercise if you find it difficult to swim lengths. The water supports you but you still work out the muscles of your legs, arms and core. You can advance this to squat jumps or jumping jacks.
  2. If swimming, vary your strokes - don't just stick to your most comfortable. Venture out of your comfort zone to practise other strokes. To master a stroke, you should be able to achieve it in the most comfortable natural posture without straining. For example, when doing breaststroke it's good to put your face under the water so not to overarch your neck or lower back. 
  3. If using floats or noodles you can boost your confidence by placing a float under your chest to support your body. Put a noodle between your legs and then pedal with your legs to improve leg and hip range of movement. 
  4. Hold on to the side and do exercises to help movement of the legs, hips and to improve stamina. 

Common Swimming Injuries

Swimmer’s Shoulder

This might include anything from rotator cuff tendinopathy, muscle tears or bursitis. It's usually brought on through over-training or poor technique and may present as pain in the back of the shoulder. It may result in restricted range of movement or joint laxity. Ice, antiinflammatories, specific rehab exercises will help and a gentle return to training. 

Swimmer's Knee

Excessive breaststroke (frog-leg kick) may cause knee strain affecting the MCL (medial collateral ligament). It may become inflamed or irritated due to repetitive movements and the angle of the knee during the stroke, into adduction and external rotation. To avoid this, vary your stroke.

Low Back Pain

In certain swimming positions the arch of the lower back (lordosis)is increased through more extension, particularly in the butterfly stroke. This doesn't mean don't do butterfly. A high level of strength and conditioning can be achieved to protect the spine, along with proper technique should help us avoid this. 

So where can you go to Get Swimming Now!

  • Check out local swimming pools for classes and lessons, like Clissold leisure centre, Kings Hall Leisure Centre or London Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park. 
  • Try outdoor swimming at London Fields lido It’s a 50m olympic sized pool, floodlit and heated! They also offer women only swims on a Tuesday eve.
  • If you’re under 18 or over 60 and a Hackney resident you can benefit from some Free swimming sessions with a pay as you go card.
  • Or for the more adventurous, try some Wild Swimming in one of  London’s rivers, lakes or reservoirs. What you will need for wild swimming is an inflatable Swim Buoy you attach to your waist to be seen and which allows you to float on to take breaks. For cold water swimming, neoprene gloves and shoes help insulate extremities.

Osteopathy and Swimming 

Visiting your osteopath can improve your knowledge about your natural alignment and inform you about your own postural imbalances and habits to make the best of your swim form, fluidity of movement and how streamline you are in the water.

The work that goes into your swimming technique involves use of major joints like shoulder rotation, flexion and extension in the hip, knee and ankle as well as lots of rotation and extension  through your spine. 

Your osteopath can focus on heightening your range of movement in these areas. Swimming is great for improving mobility and flexibility, increasing joint range and the water adds gentle resistance to help strengthen joints and muscles further.

For more information about how osteopathy can help you, call our clinic today on 03005610161 or visit to book an appointment.


Dominic Bolt

Following a career in the city, Dominic obtained a masters from University College of Osteopathy. Dominic’s mission has been to help his patients understand how their bodies work and what they can do to recover from new or persistent injuries, focusing on reducing pain whilst increasing movement and flexibility. Dominic has a keen interest in endurance sports running marathons and ultra-marathons, or as he terms them ‘elective pain sports’. Dominic continues to develop his knowledge base within both pain and sport psychology, movement rehabilitation and working with people in long term pain.

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