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Injury Prevention In Swimming Series: Back

Today we will talk about back injuries in swimming. As with most injuries in swimming, early identification is important to have a solution and quicker recovery. There are many reasons why a swimmer may experiences pain during and after swimming.

Improper technique is one the most common problems, so it is important to correct the technique before there is an injury. Freestylers for one need to make sure that they have a prober extension, flexion, rotation, and side bending.

The frequent kicks during swimming can stretch the muscle beyond its limit, especially when you did not perform any warm-up exercises. To avoid muscle tightness and, eventually, strain during swimming, condition your muscles by adding hamstring and groin stretches as part of your regular exercises.

Back problems among swimmers can also arise due to inefficient arm movement. Not involving your shoulder enough in your movements can lead to a short, choppy stroke that doesn’t propel you forward enough. One of the most common mistakes that even experienced swimmers make is shortening their strokes as they become fatigued.

Here are some exercises:

The following excerpt was sourced from

We spoke with our resident swimming expert, Dr. James N. Johnson, to discuss common swimming injuries, prevention of injuries, and treatment plans. Dr. Johnson is a Team Physician for the U.S. Olympic Swim Team, USA National Swim Team, Nashville Ballet, and the Nashville Aquatic Club. After completing his Sports Medicine fellowship at Stanford University, Dr. Johnson decided to stay on as the University’s Team Physician for two years, before moving back to Nashville.

Swimmers also commonly get injuries that occur in the low-back. Athletes that are younger than 40, are prone to stress fractures in the low-back. These stress fractures can be caused by hyperextension, stress from diving, or underwater kicking.

Rehabilitation is very important for swimming injuries. Developing strength through the torso will help connect the shoulders and the low-back and prevent both types of injuries. The main exercise that will help stabilize both the shoulder and the low-back, are standing rows. This exercise will strengthen the muscles of the torso and shoulder, primarily the lower trapezius and the serratus anterior.

Dr. Johnson has developed a program to get swimmers back in the pool as soon as possible, while still giving the injury adequate time to heal. The 12-week program goes as follows:

  1. The program begins by allowing swimmers to start swimming every other day for 20-30 minutes, alternating freestyle and backstroke for the first two weeks.

  2. During week 3, patients can swim five days a week for 30 minutes maximum, swimming 25 yard and 50-yard lengths with a 20-30 second rest, and low-level aerobic training.

  3. At week 4, patients can increase to five days a week for 40 minutes maximum, and can start to swim 100 yards, with a 30 second rest, but no more than 2,000 yards per workout. Patients are able to do a warm-up swim of 300-500 yards and start alternating freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke.

  4. Weeks 5-12, patients can increase workouts by 200-300 yards per workout, with 30 seconds rest

The bottom line: Get checked by a medical professional if you experience pain for more than 2 weeks that is not improving or getting worse. As mentioned above, proper stroke technique is very important and needs to be addressed. There are plenty of options available to keep you swimming. Also, cross training will keep injuries at a minimum and proper warm-up and cool down, which must include stretching.

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