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Swim England and Versus Arthritis team up to develop new fact sheet on swimming

Swim England has teamed up with Versus Arthritis and other experts to develop a new fact sheet on swimming and aquatic activity for people with musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions, such as arthritis or back pain.

The fact sheet further emphasises the benefits of swimming and aquatic activity for people who might struggle to be active due to long-term pain, low mobility or physical function.

‘Swimming with musculoskeletal conditions’ addresses some of the misconceptions, whilst giving tips on getting active in the water, relevant to almost 17.1 million people in England who live with such conditions.

This new resource comes shortly after the launch of the national governing body’s ‘Swimming as Medicine’ campaign, intended to remind healthcare professionals of the importance of swimming and other forms of exercise in water.

It tells the story of Dr Hussain Al-Zubaidi, Royal College of GPs Physical Activity Clinical Champion, and one of his patients who was helped to overcome significant health issues through swimming on the advice of his GP.

Great way to relieve symptoms

Matt Martin, Swim England health and wellbeing officer, explains his experiences of living with a musculoskeletal condition and how the water has helped him.

He said: “As a member of the health and wellbeing team at Swim England I obviously understand the benefits of swimming and aquatic activity across a range of health conditions, but this fact sheet is much closer to home for me.

“I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis as a teenager, which causes extreme stiffness and pain in my hips, back and neck and limits my movement in the affected areas.

“The pain and fatigue can be extreme sometimes and limit what I can do physically, particularly in the morning or trying to sleep at night.

“Mentally it is also challenging as you can’t do certain activities you might want to take part in.

“The only sport I could do as a teenager was swimming and found this was a great way to relieve symptoms, as the water allows my joints to be more flexible and pain free.

“I hope that through this fact sheet, other resources and support, we can spread the word far and wide and help more people with these conditions to realise the benefits.”

Helping people stay active

Versus Arthritis statistics show that MSK conditions accounted for the third largest area of NHS programme spending at £5 billion in 2013-14 alone.

Treating the two most common forms of arthritis (osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis) was estimated to have cost the economy £10.2 billion in direct costs to the NHS and wider healthcare system in 2017. Cumulatively, the healthcare cost will reach a staggering £118.6 billion over the next decade.

In the recent budget announcement, the Government also announced extra funding that would scale up community MSK hubs in leisure and other settings in England, which will help to tackle the rising cost of days lost at work due to conditions like arthritis and back pain, estimated at £2.58 billion in 2017 and estimated to rise to £3.43 billion by 2030.

It is anticipated that this will enable more people to access treatment and digital resources such as the Good Boost rehabilitation app, which is being adopted by pools across England and other parts of the UK.

Kelly Harman, strategic programme manager at Versus Arthritis and a member of the Swimming and Health Commission with Swim England, explains why the charity supported the development of this new fact sheet.

She said: “We know swimming can be a great place to start with exercise because it works the whole body without putting too much weight or strain on joints.

“Swimming is one form of exercise which can help people stay active despite the challenges MSK conditions can pose.”

The MSK resource adds to a list of fact sheets covering conditions such as the following: asthma, cancer, dementia, diabetes, epilepsy, ear infection, glandular fever, mental health, skin conditions, swimming before and after surgery and swimming after Covid-19.

This, and all of the above fact sheets, are available for members of the public and can be downloaded from the Just Swim website.

They are also available on Swim England’s health and wellbeing hub, with versions for anyone who might support swimmers, including swim teachers, coaches and healthcare professionals who have the opportunity to ask, suggest or equip people with MSK conditions to get active in the water.

For more information on this or other aspects of Swim England’s health and wellbeing work, contact health@swimming.org.

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