Does Aquatic Exercise Decrease Low Back Pain?


Spine Community News: Exercise in the water is a mainstay of therapy for patients with many forms of arthritis including rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Many individuals find it possible to do certain movements in the water which are impossible on dry land. But does the same apply to individuals with low back pain?

Exercise is known to help individuals with low back pain. A meta-analysis demonstrated that exercise can reduce the pain and physical dysfunction associated with low back pain.1 In eight clinical trials ( 331 patients), aquatic exercise decreased pain by 65% and improved physical function by 63%. No effect was found for general mental health.

Aquatic exercises included warming up, jumping, jogging, fast running, active range of motion, stretching, strengthening and relaxation in water. The comparison group did land based exercises concentrating on stretching and strengthening. The duration of sessions ranged from 4 to 15 weeks with duration of sessions varied from 30 to 80 minutes. There were no ill effects from doing the aquatic exercises.

There is never a bad time to start exercising and if you are unable to do it on land you can get benefits from doing them in the water. The overall benefit of pain relief and improved function are worth getting wet.

David Borenstein, MD

Executive Editor


1.Shi Z, Zhou H, Lu L et al. Aquatic exercises in the treatment of low back pain: A systemic review of the literature and meta-analysis of eight studies. Am J Phys Med Rehabil 2018:97:116-122

Comments (1)
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Rising Above ra
Rising Above ra


As someone who has been living with rheumatoid arthritis for almost 15 years, I can say that swimming has helped me a lot. It can be hard to do land workouts when you’re feeling stiff or swollen, however being in the water takes away pain and swelling for me. So yes I would agree based on my own personal experience!