Exercise swimming front crawl


How swimming can help improve your axial SpA

This information is for anyone with axial spondyloarthritis (axial SpA), including people with ankylosing spondylitis (AS).

Swimming can be great for axial SpA

It improves your general fitness, flexibility and strength in a safe, low impact environment. But it’s important to swim using the right stroke and good technique

Swimming strokes

Front crawl is a great stroke for many people with axial SpA. The body position remains extended throughout, including the neck, and the spine rotates gently.

Try to include some back crawl in every swimming session. This helps with opening the chest and ensures your shoulders rotate anti-clockwise.

Strokes you might want to avoid

  • Butterfly stroke can cause excessive arching of the lower back
  • Breast stroke can put excessive strain on the neck and lower back and the leg kick can inflame the hips and pelvis.

Do remember that if you are swimming breast stroke or butterfly with no problems and it’s a stroke you enjoy then do continue!

Weekly swimming sessions

After a few weeks of going swimming a couple of times a week for 30 minute sessions, try to add an extra weekly session.

Once you know you can do 3 x 30 minute sessions a week then start to increase your distances and speed. Only do this once you know that you can swim strongly without inflaming your joints.

What to include in a swimming session

  • Start by swimming at a gentle pace for 5 minutes to warm up
  • Do some stretching in the water for a couple of minutes
  • Swim hard for 20 minutes
  • Add in a few lengths of back crawl to help balance shoulder rotation and open up your chest.
  • Finish with a 5 minute warm down


Once you feel strong enough and are starting to gain benefit from your sessions there are lots of different opportunities to take your swimming further.


Read more