Common swimming shoulder injuries

Getting ready for the Bondi to Bronte swim swimminginjuries It’s that time of the year again where we put on our cossies and head to the beach or local pools and cool off with a swim. Some of us also get involved in the various Ocean Swims that are put on over the summer, such as the Bondi to Bronte swim that is on this Sunday. Swimming is a fantastic way to exercise for many people however many regular swimmers experience shoulder pain at some point in their lives, and there are several ways to avoid this. But before we get into it lets look at how shoulder injuries can develop. The most common shoulder injury that can occur during swimming is a shoulder impingement. This is where the rotator cuff tendons, or more specifically the supraspinatus tendon, is squashed under the roof of the shoulder blade. This causes pinching of the tendon which produces inflammation and degeneration of the tendon. Over time, if the injury is not been corrected, further tearing and degeneration of the tendon can occur leading to increased shoulder pain, further loss of shoulder movement, and eventually more significant tearing of the tendon. There are several ways this can occur:

  • Poor stroke technique
  • Sudden increase in the intensity of your workout
  • Use of the one stroke such as freestyle
  • Unbalanced strength development eg. only breathing to one side

1. Poor stroke technique Swimming with a flat body causes you to increase the internal rotation of your shoulder during the end stroke phase or recovery phase of your stroke. This places a lot of pressure on the shoulder joint and lessens the space in between the tendon and the roof of the shoulder blade. To fix this, swimming with a good body rotation reduces the load placed on your shoulders and reduces the likelihood of getting a shoulder injury Hand placement into the water is also important as a thumb-first approach places the shoulder in a close-packed position which isn’t very good for the tendon. Try a flat hand into the water with fingertips first and this will reduce the load placed on your shoulders. Upper body posture is also very important in and out of the water. Think about keeping your shoulder blades pulled back and your chest out and this will again reduce the loads placed on your shoulder. If you maintain this posture out of the pool it will translate into the pool as well. Lastly, as you pull into the water keep you elbow bent as this will cause your propulsion to be in line with your body. This ensures that you use the larger muscle groups instead of solely your shoulder. 2. Sudden increase in the intensity of your workout When you are just starting or recently returning to training ease back into it. This ensures that your rotator cuff muscles and generally your whole body does not get overwhelmed by the sudden increase in training. Muscle weakness and fatigue, especially near the end of your swim session, is a common cause of incorrect stroke patterns resulting in various injuries including shoulder pain. 3. Use of the of the one stroke such as swimming Varying your stroke during training reduces the risk of an overuse injury in the shoulder and you will gain more from cross training as you develop different muscle groups.Only using one stroke, most commonly freestyle, results in some muscles (eg pecs, chest, front of shoulder) becoming over-active and overdeveloped whilst others (such as those at the back of your shoulder and between your shoulder blades) becoming relatively weak, long and under-active. This is called muscle imbalance, and is a very common predisposing factor to shoulder pain. 4. Unbalanced strength development Breathing just to one side can cause over-development of the muscles one side of your body and this causes another form of muscle imbalance. Again, this increases the risk of developing shoulder injuries. Practice breathing to both sides and this will ensure a balanced and healthy stroke. As you can see, many shoulder injuries can be prevented with proper technique, pacing during your training sessions and mixing up your strokes to avoid overuse injuries. So slap on your swimming costumes, wetsuits, bikinis or whatever floats your boat and have fun!

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