I heard many contradictory things related to the harm breaststroke can do to the back. (All during informal discussions. I have no references to include here, so my question).

  • Some say swimming can only be good for the back and the rest of the body

  • Some other say that breaststroke can be deleterious for the back, even if the swimmer submerges his/her head. (So a great care must be given to the technique, even in a recreational context).

I expect the truth to be somewhere in between these two extremes, but I have no way to figure out by myself.

  • Comments removed. Please do not answer in comments. Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 6:23

2 Answers 2


In most cases, swimming is good exercise. Light swimming is also a therapy for people with joint and back pain. The breaststroke is not usually the recommended stroke for therapy because, if done incorrectly, it can be harmful.

Because you have to keep bringing your head up to breath, the joints in your upper back and neck get extended, and have to deal with a lot of stress from repetitive movement. This can cause a lot pain, especially to those who have experienced back problems before. Having your head up and looking forward can also cause your hips to drop, which puts extra strain on the lower back. This can lead to extra back problems, such as hyperextension.

There are some tips to help you avoid back pain when swimming the backstroke.

  • Keep your head underwater as long as possible; wearing goggles helps with this

  • Try to keep your head looking down instead of towards the end of the pool

  • Get swimming lessons - swimming instructors can be found everywhere, and if you really want to swim the breaststroke without any pain, then it would be a good thing to considers

Overall, there is some middle ground between the things you have heard, but the second thing that you mentioned is probably more accurate. Done correctly, you will be fine, but done incorrectly, you could injure your back.

Swimming and Back Pain

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    <comment removed> Let's avoid getting into protracted debates in chat unless they directly related to asking for clarifications or editing corrections into the post. Chat is a better venue for such activities. Thanks. Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 19:16

In general hydrotherapy is advised and can improve mobility and help relieve discomford and promote recovery from injury.

If you've neck or back problems, you may find that breaststroke aggravates your condition rather than improves it, but it could simply be down to poor technique. Keep moving

In Prevention and Treatment of Swimmer's Shoulder (2006) study we can read:

Movement at the shoulder during breaststroke can vary, with more motion occurring below the surface of the water than any other stroke. Like the butterfly, the arms are moved simultaneously through a motion that starts in full flexion with internal rotation. However, the elbows remain flexed during the pull-through until the humerus is fully adducted and brought into horizontal adduction with forearms touching each other. Unlike the other strokes, the hands never move below the hips so the tensile forces on the rotator cuff that occurs during the other strokes at the end of pull-thorough does not occur during breaststroke1.


  • [1]: Shapiro C. Swimming. In Shamus E, Shamus J, editors. (eds)Sports injury prevention and rehabilitation. New York: McGraw-Hill;2001:103–154

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