The summer heat has a way of sending regular exercisers out of the gym and into the pool. Known for being joint friendly, swimming is a great way to cool off while being active and is beneficial for all ages. Those wanting a serious caloric burn can easily meet their goals in the water, however, as with land based exercises, good form is key to preventing injury. While swimming is considered a low impact exercise, improper stroke mechanics can lead to neck pain, stiffness, and soreness.
Swimmers rely heavily on technique to improve efficiency and speed in the water. The harder and faster you go, the easier it is to strain your muscles, especially those in your neck. Swimming does strengthen the supporting neck muscles and that should alleviate sore, stiff necks, but if you are still in pain after your swim, you need to look closely at your stroke technique.
It is important to align your head properly with your body while swimming, especially doing a freestyle stroke. Ideally, you should keep your head and body in a straight line from beginning to end of the stroke. It might seem uncomfortable at first, but a neutral head position will have you looking at the bottom of the pool. A natural inclination would be to keep your face and head out of the water, looking forward. However, that places unnatural stress on your spinal column. This will eventually lead stiffness and pain. Even with the breaststroke, you will need to keep your head aligned with your spine, especially when you come out and above the water.
Most beginners lift their heads too far out of the water to breathe. Raising your head too high, tucking it tightly against your shoulder or rotating your head too much not only causes stiffness and pain but also tingling and numbness, according to USA Swimming. Avoid strained neck muscles by rotating your body during the freestyle stroke and minimize the need to twist or lift your neck. Focus on breathing early during the butterfly stroke, again to prevent you from feeling the need to extend the neck further than you should.
If your neck continues to ache after swimming, take a break from the water and allow your neck and vertebrae time to rest and relax. You can also vary your strokes until you are more comfortable in the water. It is a good investment to have a swim coach evaluate your strokes and make suggestions.
Feel free to call our office and make an appointment to see Dr. Fayaz if your neck pain gets worse or does not improve with rest.