We're using cookies to give you the best experience on our site. Cookies are files stored in your browser and are used by most websites to help personalise your web experience.

By continuing to use our website without changing the settings, you're agreeing to our use of cookies.

Find out more

Can I swim breaststroke when I have osteoarthritis?

Q) An article in Yours magazine says that swimming breaststroke is not good for osteoarthritis of the hips and knees. I’d be grateful if you could tell me the reason for this.
George, Matlock, Derbyshire (Winter 2015)

A) People with knee replacements are certainly advised to avoid breaststroke swimming and this extends to arthritic knees and hips. Swimming breaststroke puts excessive side-to-side and rotational forces on the joints and may be difficult to do if the joint is unstable. The preferred direction of force is in flexion (bending), which is why a kick, as done in front crawl and backstroke, is recommended. However, for most people breaststroke is the preferred stroke and they simply can’t do the other strokes.

In a busy pool it is difficult to adapt and experiment, but you could try using a float between the legs if you prefer to use the breaststroke arm action and then do the ‘kick’ either with the float in your hands on while holding on to the side of the pool. You may also be able to do many of the aquarobic exercise classes that are available, although you should talk to the instructor first.

This answer was provided by Dr Philip Helliwell for the Winter 2015 edition of our magazine, Arthritis Today, and was correct at the time of publication.

Send your questions for Dr Tom Margham to

Keep up to date with the latest from Arthritis TodaySign up today.


0800 5200 520

Our new helpline: Call us for free information, help and advice on your type of arthritis. Open Mon–Fri 9am–8pm.

All calls are recorded for training and quality purposes

Virtual Assistant

Our new Arthritis Virtual Assistant uses artificial intelligence to answer your arthritis related questions 24/7.

Ask a question

We're now

Versus Arthritis.

You're being taken through to our new website in order to finish your donation.

Thank you for your generosity.

For more information, go to
Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.