Swimmer’s Shoulder : Swimming Injuries

Swimmer’s shoulder is one of the most common swimming injuries, affecting the majority of elite swimmers at some point in their career, as well as a significant number of casual swimmers. The shoulder is a particularly vulnerable joint in swimming, particularly freestyle, as the upper extremities provide 90% of the propulsive force.

What is Swimmer’s Shoulder?

Swimmer’s shoulder is the term used to describe shoulder pain, usually in competitive swimmers. Experts disagree on exactly what causes the condition. However, it is commonly thought to be caused by a combination of factors which result in an impingement syndrome or tendinitis. Primarily, it is thought to be a result of overuse, resulting in inflammation of the rotator cuff muscles which lie adjacent to the shoulder. This is coupled with instability of the shoulder joint, which may be natural, due to injury, due to flexibility exercises or due to muscle imbalance. Whatever the cause, the result is laxity of the shoulder joint which leads to excessive movement and further inflammation.

How can Swimmer’s Shoulder be prevented?

Swimmers should look to correct the following faults in order to prevent swimmer’s shoulder:

  • Inadequate body roll
  • Breathing only to one side
  • Water is being caught too near to the midline
  • Shoulder not being kept stabilised during the pull phase of the stroke
  • Elbow not being kept elevated enough during the recovery phase of the stroke.

Other preventative measures include extended warm-up periods and making sure there is a balance between the muscles worked during training.

How is Swimmer’s Shoulder Treated?

Treatment for mild problems will include increased warm-up time and allowing only pain free activities, concentrating on kick-work for a while instead. An ice-pack may help to ease the pain after training. In more severe cases, the swimmer should stop, or significantly decrease his or her swimming activities to avoid further inflammation. Consultation with a physical therapist may be necessary, and regular icing or use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication will help. A supervised exercise program will help you regain strength of the muscles. Surgical intervention will be considered in cases where the athlete has been trying other treatments for a minimum of six months with no improvement.

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