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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 enquiries@arthritisresearchuk.org


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