Swimming is a fantastic form of exercise that offers numerous health benefits. However, like any physical activity, it can sometimes lead to discomfort or injury. One common issue that swimmers may experience is neck pain.

This article aims to explore the causes of swimming neck pain, discuss prevention strategies, and provide effective treatment methods to relieve discomfort and promote overall well-being.

Can Swimming Cause Neck Pain?

Swimming itself does not inherently cause neck pain. In fact, swimming is often recommended as a low-impact exercise that can help relieve certain types of neck pain.

a female touching her neck after experiencing swimming neck pain

However, incorrect swimming techniques, poor body positioning, and muscle imbalances can contribute to neck pain after swimming.

It is crucial to identify the underlying causes and make the necessary adjustments to prevent and manage neck pain effectively.

Common Causes of Neck Pain After Swimming

Several factors can contribute to neck pain after swimming:

  1. One of the most common causes is incorrect body positioning while swimming.

    If you hold your head too high or too low, strain is placed on the neck muscles and joints, leading to discomfort.
  2. Additionally, muscle imbalances in the neck and upper back, such as weak neck extensor muscles or tight chest muscles, can exacerbate neck pain.

    It is essential to address these imbalances through targeted exercises and stretches.
  3. Another contributing factor is repetitive motion. Frequent and repetitive movements, such as bilateral breathing or continuous rotation of the head, can strain the neck muscles and lead to pain.

  4. Furthermore, swimming in freezing water can cause the muscles in the neck and upper back to contract, increasing the risk of discomfort and injury.

Understanding these causes can help swimmers take appropriate precautions to prevent neck pain.

Common Swimmer’s Neck Pain Symptoms After Swimming

Swimmer’s neck pain can manifest in various ways, and recognizing the symptoms can aid in early intervention and effective treatment. Some common symptoms include:

  1. Localized discomfort: Swimmers may experience pain or stiffness in the neck region, which can radiate to the shoulders and upper back.
  2. Limited range of motion: Neck pain can restrict the ability to turn the head freely, making it difficult to perform daily activities.
  3. Muscle tightness: Swimmers may feel tightness or knots in the neck and upper back muscles due to strain or overuse.
  4. Headaches: Neck pain can trigger tension headaches, causing additional discomfort and impacting overall well-being.

Identifying these symptoms promptly allows swimmers to implement appropriate measures to relieve neck pain and prevent further complications.

Does Swimming Help Neck Pain?

While swimming can be beneficial for relieving certain types of neck pain, it may not be suitable for everyone.

The buoyancy of water reduces the impact on the joints and provides a supportive environment for movement.

Gentle swimming exercises, such as freestyle or backstroke, can help strengthen the neck muscles and improve flexibility while minimizing strain.

male swimmer practicing the freestyle swimming stroke

However, individuals with severe neck pain or certain underlying conditions, such as cervical spine instability or disc herniation, should consult with a medical professional before engaging in swimming as a form of therapy.

Swimming is generally considered a low-impact activity, but individual circumstances may vary. It is crucial to prioritize safety and listen to your body when managing neck pain through swimming.

The Best Swimming Strokes for Individuals with Swimming Neck Pain

When it comes to choosing the most suitable swimming stroke for individuals with neck pain, some strokes are generally considered more neck-friendly than others.

The following strokes are recommended:

  1. Freestyle: Freestyle, also known as front crawl, is an excellent stroke for individuals with neck pain. It promotes proper body alignment and allows for controlled head movement.
  2. Backstroke: Backstroke is another stroke that can be beneficial for neck pain. It encourages a natural extension of the neck and promotes good posture while swimming.
  3. Breaststroke: Breaststroke can be suitable for individuals with neck pain if performed correctly. Avoid excessive strain on the neck by keeping your head aligned with the spine during the stroke.

It is important to note that individual preferences and capabilities may vary.

Experimenting with different strokes and seeking guidance from a swimming instructor or physical therapist can help determine the most appropriate stroke for your specific needs.

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How to Avoid Neck Pain while Swimming

Prevention is key when it comes to avoiding neck pain while swimming. By following these tips, you can minimize the risk of discomfort and injury:

  1. Maintain proper body alignment: Focus on keeping your head aligned with your spine while swimming. Avoid excessive tilting or rotation of the head, which can strain the neck muscles.
  2. Improve neck and upper back strength: Incorporate exercises that target the neck and upper back muscles into your fitness routine. Strengthening these muscles can provide better support and stability during swimming.

  3. Warm-up and stretch: Before swimming, engage in a thorough warm-up routine that includes neck and upper back stretches. This helps prepare the muscles for the activity and reduces the likelihood of strain.
  4. Use proper equipment: Invest in a well-fitting swim cap and goggles that provide a comfortable fit. Ill-fitting equipment can contribute to neck pain and discomfort while swimming.
  5. Take regular breaks: If you are swimming for an extended period, make sure to take regular breaks to rest and stretch. This allows the neck muscles to recover and prevents overuse injuries.
  6. Maintain a balanced training regimen: Incorporate other forms of exercise, such as strength training and flexibility exercises, to maintain overall muscular balance and reduce the risk of neck pain.

Implementing these preventive measures can significantly reduce the likelihood of experiencing neck pain while swimming and enhance your overall swimming experience.

a female treating her neck after being a victim of swimming neck pain

Effective Treatment Methods for Swimming Neck Pain

If you do experience neck pain after swimming, there are several effective treatment methods that can help relieve the discomfort and promote healing.

Consider the following approaches:

  1. Rest and ice: Resting the neck and applying ice packs to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and pain.
  2. Pain medication: Over-the-counter pain medication, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can provide temporary relief from neck pain.

    However, consult with a healthcare professional before taking any medication.
  3. Physical therapy: Working with a physical therapist can be highly beneficial for addressing neck pain.

    They can guide you through exercises and stretches that target the specific muscles causing discomfort and help restore mobility and strength.
  4. Massage therapy: Massage therapy can help relieve muscle tension and promote relaxation in the neck and upper back. Seek the assistance of a trained massage therapist experienced in treating neck pain.

  5. Heat therapy: Applying heat to the affected area can help relax tight muscles and improve blood circulation. Use a heating pad or take a warm shower to experience the soothing effects of heat therapy.

  6. Posture correction: Maintaining proper posture throughout the day, not just during swimming, is essential for managing neck pain.

    Focus on maintaining a neutral spine alignment and avoid slouching or hunching forward.

It is important to note that the effectiveness of treatment methods can vary depending on the individual and the underlying cause of neck pain.

Consulting with a healthcare professional or a physical therapist is recommended for a personalized treatment plan.

READ ALSO: Causes and How to Prevent and Treat Leg Pain After Swimming

Exercises and Stretches to Relieve Neck Pain After Swimming

Engaging in specific exercises and stretches can help relieve neck pain after swimming and prevent future discomfort. Incorporate the following exercises into your routine:

  1. Neck stretches: Gently tilt your head to the left, bringing your left ear towards your left shoulder.

    Hold for 15-30 seconds, then repeat on the right side. Perform this stretch several times on each side to release tension in the neck muscles.
  2. Shoulder rolls: Roll your shoulders forward in a circular motion for 10-15 repetitions, and then reverse the direction. This exercise helps relieve tension in the neck and upper back.
  3. Chin tucks: While sitting or standing with good posture, retract your chin towards your neck, as if making a double chin.

    Hold for a few seconds, then release. Repeat this exercise several times to strengthen the deep neck muscles and promote proper alignment.
  4. Upper back stretches: Interlace your fingers in front of you, palms facing outward. Extend your arms forward and round your upper back, feeling a stretch between your shoulder blades.

    Hold for 15-30 seconds, then release. Repeat this stretch several times to alleviate tension in the upper back muscles.

Incorporating these exercises and stretches into your routine can help relieve neck pain, improve flexibility, and promote overall neck health.

a male teenager stretching his neck

Tips for Maintaining Proper Posture and Form while Swimming

Maintaining proper posture and form while swimming is crucial for preventing neck pain and optimizing performance. Consider the following tips:

  1. Align your head with your spine: Keep your head in a neutral position, aligning it with your spine. Avoid looking upward or downward excessively, as it can strain the neck muscles.
  2. Relax your shoulders: Allow your shoulders to remain relaxed and avoid shrugging them towards your ears. Tension in the shoulders can contribute to neck pain and discomfort.
  3. Engage your core: Activate your core muscles to stabilize your body while swimming. A strong core provides better overall body control and helps maintain proper alignment.
  4. Breathe rhythmically: Coordinate your breathing with your swimming strokes to avoid unnecessary strain on the neck muscles. Proper breathing techniques can enhance efficiency and reduce the risk of neck pain.

By incorporating these tips into your swimming practice, you can maintain proper posture and form, reducing the likelihood of experiencing neck pain.

When to Seek Medical Help for a Swimmer’s Neck Pain

While most cases of swimmer’s neck pain can be managed with self-care and preventive measures, certain situations may require medical attention.

If you experience any of the following, it is recommended to seek medical help:

  1. Severe or persistent pain: If the neck pain is severe or persists for an extended period, it may indicate an underlying condition that requires professional assessment.
  2. Radiating pain or numbness: If the neck pain radiates down the arm or is accompanied by numbness or tingling, it may be indicative of nerve compression or other spinal issues.
  3. Loss of range of motion: If you are unable to move your neck or experience a significant reduction in range of motion, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional.
  4. Inability to perform daily activities: If the neck pain interferes with your ability to perform daily activities or significantly impacts your quality of life, seeking medical help is recommended.

Remember, it is always better to err on the side of caution and consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns or doubts about your neck pain.

READ ALSO: Everything You Need to Know About the Open Turn in Swimming


Swimming neck pain can be a challenging issue to deal with, but with the right knowledge and proactive measures, it can be effectively managed and prevented.

By understanding the causes, recognizing the symptoms, and implementing appropriate prevention strategies, swimmers can significantly reduce the risk of neck pain.

Additionally, incorporating targeted exercises, and stretches, and adopting proper swimming techniques can relieve discomfort and promote overall neck health.

Remember, if you experience persistent or severe neck pain, it is essential to seek medical attention for a thorough evaluation and personalized treatment plan.

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