Photo: Chris Blanar

Water exercise and immersion offer unique benefits for a variety of health conditions.

As more clinical information emerges, doctors in the United States may begin to prescribe exercise and physical therapy in the water as a regular treatment for various conditions. That shift can translate to more growth for the aquatics industry.

Of the many conditions that benefit, low back pain is perhaps the most documented and common. This condition occurs for a variety of reasons and can range from short-term pain to long-term disability. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 80% of adults will experience low-back pain at some point during their lifetime. It’s also the most common cause of job-related disability and missed work.

Whether the pain is caused by an injury or aging, being in water provides added benefits by soothing the pain and increasing mobility. Water takes the pressure off joints, making it easier to move than on land. For someone with joint or low-back pain, water exercise can help strengthen muscles without putting stress on the joints.

People who are unable to move as easily on land can be more physically active in the water. The ability to engage in moderate-intensity cardio exercise allows for better results in achieving weight loss goals, which can also help improve low back pain.

It’s possible that for many cases of low back pain, participating in water exercise or physical therapy may be more beneficial than the land-based version. Researchers for a study published in the Journal of Musculoskeletal Research found that aquatic therapy provided better short-term improvement for both pain and functioning than conventional therapy in patients with lumbar spinal stenosis — an age-related condition causing the spinal canal to narrow and put pressure on the spinal cord.

Another study examined the effects of underwater lumbar traction in combination with aquatic exercise for people with chronic low back pain. Researchers concluded that 20 minutes of traction with 40 minutes of aquatic exercise could be an effective alternative to physical therapy.

These studies, along with others, create a compelling case for the use of aquatic therapy over conventional land-based therapies for low back pain.

Special thanks to the National Swimming Pool Foundation.

Studies Referenced:

Homayouni, K., Naseri, M., Zaravar, F., Zaravar, L., Karimian, H., K., H., … Karimian, H. (2015). Comparison of the effect of aquatic physical therapy and conventional physical therapy in patients with lumbar spinal stenosis (a randomized controlled trial). Journal of Musculoskeletal Research, 18(1).

Tanakietpinyo, S. (2014). Effects of underwater lumbar traction with aquatic exercises for chronic low back pain clients. Bulletin of Chiang Associated Medical Sciences, 46(3). Retrieved from