Summer is rapidly approaching, and with global climate changes, the summers are getting hotter and what better way to cool down than to hit the beach or pool for a swim! Unfortunately though, as with many sports there are always associated injuries and in swimming it is often the shoulder. One of the most common conditions that can occur is shoulder impingement. Lets have a quick chat about the muscles and their function in the shoulder. There are 4 major muscles which make up your rotator cuff. Theses 4 muscles work to stabilise the shoulder as it moves through range. If one of these 4 muscles are weak or there is tightness in the muscles controlling the shoulder blade then the top of the arm bone (humerus) can jam up under the roof of the shoulder blade (acromion). This can cause the tendons or the bursa (pocket of fluid) to become inflamed and painful. Shoulder impingement usually occurs when your arm is up close to your ear in backstroke, freestyle, butterfly. It can also be when you are in a streamline position where your arm is slightly rotated inwards (internally rotated). So think of the shoulder like a canoe and paddle – the swimmers hand is like a paddle and the rotator cuff muscles work like a fulcrum to stabilize the shoulder as the arm comes in and out of the water. shoulder32 So how does shoulder impingement happen? Shoulder impingement usually occurs when your arm is up close to your ear in backstroke, freestyle, butterfly. It can also be when you are in a streamline position where your arm is slightly rotated inwards (internally rotated). This position causes friction of the head (ball) of the arm against the ligaments and the tendons. This occurs due to:
- Poor swimming technique
- A large amount of training which can cause the muscles to fatigue and therefore work inefficiently or be overworked and fail
- Your hand crossing your body’s midline when it enters the water in freestyle or butterfly
- Your thumb pointing down and the palm facing outwards as your hand enters the water
- Unilateral breathing (i.e. only breathing on one side), as it can cause the opposite shoulder to become overworked
- The use of a kick board and streamline positions with the palm facing out can place the shoulder in a position of impingement
- The use of hand paddles or paddles without holes can increase the pull-through load, again placing increased strain on the shoulder muscles
Here are a few common swimming stroke problems to take note of to help avoid having a painful shoulder this summer! Things NOT to do! Butterfly:
- entering the water with your arms too far outside the shoulders or too close together (too close to midline)
- pulling through with elbows extended (fully straight) which results in a straight arm pull through instead of an S shaped pull through.
- inadequate body roll
- pulling through beyond the midline
- reaching out too far or aiming for too much length ahead
- inadequate body roll
- Excessive elbow straightening in the streamline position.
So have a think about your technique, have a think about the few technical problems mentioned above, and have a safe and painfree swimming season!