Pool Time: A Prescription to Prevent and Treat Low Back Pain

By: Maahir Haque, M.D.

It is estimated that four out of five people will contend with low back pain. Low back pain affects people of all ages. It can flare up during everyday activities or seemingly out of the blue. If not addressed, it can limit one’s ability to travel, participate in recreational activities, or spend time with family. Quite understandably, patients- even those who have only experienced mild low back pain- often express worry when speaking with physicians about their back pain. The good news is: the majority of patients with low back pain will not need surgery.

The human body has a wonderful capacity for healing injuries, including back injuries. However, when it comes to back injuries, even after the underlying injury is healed, patients often remain stiff, deconditioned, and in pain. Low back pain has such a profound effect on peoples’ lives because the pain prevents them from staying active. It depletes patients’ energy and can leave them frustrated. That cycle of pain and deconditioning can be tough to break.

There are a variety of non-operative modalities that are commonly recommended to help patients recover from low back pain. One of the simpler and more affordable therapeutic options is aquatherapy.
Aquatherapy, or aquatic therapy, can be an important first step toward breaking out of that cycle of pain and deconditioning. Aquatherapy is a range of exercises or treatments that are done in a pool. After doing a few sessions with a licensed therapist, most patients can do aquatherapy on their own or with friends. Resources and information about various aquatherapy techniques are easily accessible online. You do not need any specific equipment in most cases, other than a pool.

For back pain prevention or treatment, aquatherapy is the perfect exercise. The water in a pool provides buoyancy, taking stress and weight off of the spine and other joints. Therapeutic benefit has been shown in various patient populations, including in pregnant patients. Patients with balance problems will find that the buoyancy allows them to exercise without the fear of falling. The water also provides resistance that can recondition and strengthen your arms or legs. Because aquatherapy is low-impact, it is great for patients with arthritic hips and knees. It is also an excellent cardiovascular exercise and can promote weight loss. Most importantly, patients find aquatherapy both therapeutic and enjoyable!

Aquatherapy will help the vast majority of people with low back pain. Even if it does not provide complete relief, it is an important step toward recovery. Injections or even surgery can have excellent results but they should only be offered when a patient has failed to achieve adequate pain relief from a comprehensive, non-operative treatment plan.