Swimming with arthritis

Any form of exercise can seem like a huge effort when your joints are aching. However, swimming and other similar water-based activities are some of the best exercises for arthritis.1,2,3

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Why is exercising in water good for you?

  • Being submerged in water can remove up to 90% of your body weight, relieving pressure on your joints. It allows you to do movements and exercises that you may not normally be able to do. For example, if you have painful knee joints, squats would not be something you could usually do, however, in the water this becomes possible with the support of the water.4
  • Being in the water also reduces the stress of impact on your joints. When your joints are painful and swollen during weight-bearing exercise, working out in the water allows you to experience all the advantages of movement without the disadvantages of impact.
  • The water provides resistance for your muscles, so walking across the width of the pool in the water would be far more effective than doing so outside of the pool in terms of building strength in your muscles and burning calories.
  • Cardiovascular fitness also gets a boost in the water, as your whole body has to work harder in multiple ways to move you through the water due to the increase in resistance. You are also usually able to tolerate much more exercise in the pool than you can on land, so your strength and mobility will improve more quickly than they would out of the pool.

Watch this clip to find out more benefits of swimming.

What exercises can I do?


Swimming has been identified as helping to reduce pain, stiffness and disability in those who suffer from this arthritis.2 It can also increase general mobility.  Gentle swimming, using your favoured stroke, is also one of the best exercises you can do. Go at your own pace, rest when you need to, but try to do it regularly in order to maximise the benefits.

Swimming can help to:

  • stimulate blood circulation, reduce muscle stiffness and ease pain.
  • maintain and build strength and cardiovascular fitness.
  • make your joints more flexible.
  • reduce the impact on your joints due to the buoyancy of water. 3

Water walking

Go for a walk in waist- to chest-deep water in your local pool. To increase your effort, try doing a lap forward and then walking backwards or picking up the pace. If you find it slippery underfoot, you can wear water shoes to help provide grip.

Water jogging

Water jogging is a simple exercise where you mimic jogging or running in place, typically in deeper water. Though advanced joggers can do this without equipment, you may find that you benefit from getting a flotation belt that gives you a bit more buoyancy. Some gyms or health spas may have ones you can use.1

Water aerobics

Water aerobics are a great way to exercise in the pool, without putting too much strain on your joints. You can either do this as part of an organised class at your local pool, or you can do them yourself if you would rather. There has been a rise in the number of people buying or using hot tubs – if you have one, you could even do some of the exercise in there. The warm water has additional benefits for sore joints and muscles.1

Here are a few of the exercises you can try to help ease your pain:

Forward Lunge

  • Stand in water up to your waist or chest. You can do this near the side if you require extra support
  • Take a large step (lunge) forward. Do NOT allow your knee to go over your toe
  • Step back again and repeat with the other foot
  • Repeat three times4


  • Stand in water up to your waist or chest, facing the pool wall
  • Take 10 steps to one side, keeping the pool wall in front of you
  • Return to where you started. Repeat three times4

Hip Kickers

  • Stand in water up to your waist or chest. Hold on to the pool edge with your left hand for support
  • Start by kicking your right leg forward, keeping your knee straight, and bring it back to the starting position
  • Then kick your right leg out to the side, and then back to the starting position
  • Kick your right leg behind you, and back to the starting position
  • Turn around and repeat all of this with your left leg. Try and do this three times with each leg4

Star Jumps

  • Stand in chest-deep water, with your feet together and hands at your side
  • Jump your feet out to a straddle and bring your hands up to the top of the water level, keeping them in the water
  • Return to start position and repeat as quickly as comfortable. Repeat 5 times
  • If you find it hard to jump, start by stepping out to the side
  • If you need to make it harder, use a float or foam dumbbells to increase resistance4

Frog Jumps

  • Stand in chest-deep water
  • Keeping your body under water, pull your knees up quickly towards your armpits (with your knees wide and heels toward your groin) and reach your hands down to touch your feet as they come up.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat as quickly as comfortable
  • Repeat 5 times4

Squat Jumps

  • Stand in water up to your waist or chest
  • Stick your bottom out, bend your knees and imagine you are sitting down on a low stool
  • Stretch your arms out in front of you as you do so
  • Jump up out of the water, pulling your arms in to your sides as you do
  • Land on the balls of your feet, then lower your heels and bend into the next squat
  • Repeat as quickly as comfortable, and at least 5 times4

Pool Planks

  • Stand in water up to your waist or chest
  • Keeping your feet on the pool floor, hold a pool noodle in front of you and lean forward, keeping your body in a rigid, straight position
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then return to standing
  • Repeat 5 times5


  • Stand in water up to your waist or chest
  • Holding onto a float, noodle or the side of the pool, cycle your legs in the water like you’re on a bike
  • Do this for 1 minute, rest for 30 seconds and repeat 5 times5

As you do these exercises regularly, you may find that you are able to do more. You can either increase the number of times you repeat each one, or you can repeat the whole routine as many times as you can.

What else do I need to remember?

To get the most out of exercising in water, it is recommended that you exercise in water that is between 28 and 32oC if possible. You can check with your local pool to see if they offer this facility. If not, you can still get plenty of benefit from being in a cooler pool, so don’t let that stop you!

Other things to remember when you are exercising in the pool:

Keep hydrated.

It is difficult to tell when you sweat in the pool, so make sure you take breaks as needed to drink some water or other fluids both during and afterwards. 3

Don’t ignore joint pain.

Even though exercising in water feels like it is giving you relief from joint pain, you may still experience pain. If you do, it is better to stop than to push through. You can talk with your doctor about what is and is not typical pain during exercise. 3

Be prepared.

You don’t typically need much equipment for swimming or water exercises, but some things you might want to include in your bag include goggles, swim shoes or socks so you don’t slip, flotation devices (noodles or kick boards), and bottles for drinking water.3

Can swimming help arthritis

A final word

Regular exercise is an important part of your arthritis treatment plan, and your doctor will recommend it — whether you have osteoarthritis or an autoimmune, inflammatory form such as rheumatoid arthritis. But before you try any water exercise program, talk to your doctor or physiotherapist to make sure pool exercises are right for you.


  1. swimming.org/swimengland/health-and-wellbeing-benefits-of-swimming/
  2. cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD005523.pub3/full?highlightAbstract=exercis%7Costeoarthritis%7Costeoarthr%7Cexercise%7Cwater%7Chip
  3. versusarthritis.org/news/2021/june/why-is-swimming-and-exercising-in-water-good-for-people-with-arthritis/
  4. creakyjoints.org/diet-exercise/water-exercises-for-arthritis/
  5. orthobethesda.com/blog/water-exercises-for-alleviating-arthritis/

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