Swimming Injuries

The average swimmer completes over a million shoulder rotations per year, per arm. With those kinds of numbers, it’s no mystery why overuse of the shoulder is a major issue among avid swimmers. Statistics show that 66% of competitive swimmers will have a shoulder injury within their lifetime, that’s higher than baseball pitchers, volleyball players, and even javelin throwers. Along with shoulder injuries, swimmers are often treated for low back, knee, and ankle pain due to the repetitive nature of the sport. Learn more about how to prevent injury and protect your body while swimming.

Preventing Swimming Injuries

Here are some tips for how to avoid injury while swimming:

Avoid technique pitfalls

Weaving down lane, arm crossing midline,”snaking”, inconsistent kick beats, limited or excessive body roll, dropped elbow and shortening of stroke can create a breeding ground for injury.

Strengthen the shoulder

Spend time doing exercises that strengthen the muscles attaching to the shoulder blade (scapula), these include the serratus anterior, subscapularis, lower trapezius, and external rotators. This will help remedy muscle imbalances in the shoulder area.

Balance pool time with dry land training

Dry land training is vital for bone density development and closed chain activity.

Beware of swimming aides

Kick boards, pull buoys, and paddles can all create unnatural positions for your body, which can lead to injury. Kick boards place undo stress on the shoulder, pull buoys increases stress to the spine, and paddles restrict normal body roll.

Be wary of stretching

Leading researchers have determined that stretching can actually be detrimental. If you plan on stretching, the best time to do so if after you are done swimming to reduce the risk of damage. It is not recommended to do the following stretches: arm across body, partner stretch with arms hyper extended behind back, and overhead stretch.

Remember your core

Your core body, the back, abdominal (not the 6 pack abs), and buttock muscles, are key for preventing injury. These muscles deep inside wrap around your spine and provide stability for the whole body. Strength here can help eliminate muscle imbalance and weakness elsewhere.


Common Swimming Injuries and Conditions

Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder impingement occurs when the rotator cuff is pinched between the shoulder blade and the “ball” of the ball and socket shoulder joint when the arm is raised. It can be caused by inflammation of the rotator cuff and bursa, which narrows the space between the two bones. It also can be caused by a tear on the rotator cuff. Shoulder impingement is common in athletes or individuals who use overhead motion regularly as part of sports or their job.

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Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Patellofemoral pain syndrome primarily affects individuals who tend to overuse their knees such as runners, cyclists, skiers and others whose activities involve running and jumping. It encompasses a group of conditions that impact the area surrounding the kneecap. This results in damage, strain or inflammation of the structures, which leads to pain.

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Spondylolysis/Lumbar Stress Reaction

Spondylolysis is also known as a stress fracture, the lumbar spine is susceptible to over use from constant over stretching (hyperextension) at the spine. This can result as a stress fracture on one or both sides of the vertebraThis bony abnormality can alter the position of the spinal segment causing it to shift.

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Scapulothoracic Dysfunction

Scapulothoracic dysfunction refers to the movement of the shoulder blade with the rib cage. If the muscles surrounding the shoulder blades and back are weak compared to the athlete's anterior body musculature, a "winging" malposition, or poor movement of the shoulder blades may occur resulting in pain in that area, which can also affect the shoulders.    

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Foot and Ankle Tendonitis

Overuse or weakness of the muscles surrounding the ankle or foot, which commonly occurs in repetitive sports, or in conjunction with other lower leg injuries due to muscular imbalances while healing.

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Rotator Cuff Tendonitis

Rotator cuff tendonitis is an irritation or inflammation of the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder that help to stabilize the shoulder joint. Patients will typically notice pain with repetitive overhead or reaching activities.

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Shoulder Labral Tear

Lining the shoulder socket and extending beyond it is the labrum, a soft-fiber tissue rim providing support to the shoulder joint. The labrum can be injured from repetitive motion or from trauma such as a fall or direct hit on the shoulder. This can occur in conjunction with other shoulder injuries, such as shoulder dislocation. Labral tears are common in sports with overhead motions such as baseball or softball, and also contact sports such as football and hockey.

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