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Injury Prevention In Swimming Series: Shoulders

This week we will talk about shoulder injuries which can affect competitive swimmers practicing for hours every day and not doing any dry land training, stretching, warm up, or cool down.


What can we do to prevent these injuries? First, we have to understand that the shoulder is designed to achieve the greatest range of motion with the most degrees of freedom of any joint system in the body. The greatest illustration of the balance between shoulder mobility and stability occurs during sports that require overhead motions.

Swimming requires several overhead movement patterns, involving continuous circular movements in clockwise and counterclockwise directions. A competitive swimmer usually exceeds 4000 strokes for one shoulder in a single workout, making this sport a common source of shoulder injury.


Shoulder pain is the most common complaint in swimming and here are some of the reasons:

  1. Overtraining

  2. Not enough rest periods

  3. Poor stroke mechanics

  4. Poor breathing technique

  5. Poor flexibility or range of motion

  6. Decreased rotator cuff or shoulder blade (scapular muscle) strength

  7. Poor core strength or stability

  8. Decreased hip muscle strength

  9. Bad posture.

Here are some of the common shoulder injuries in swimmers:

  1. Irritation and inflammation in the shoulders.

  2. Rotator cuff tendonitis or tears.

  3. Shoulder impingement syndrome, which is a result of pressure on the rotator cuff muscles from part of the shoulder blade when the arm is lifted overhead.

  4. Tears in the cartilage around the shoulder socket.

  5. Biceps tendonitis.

In swimmers who have already developed symptoms, the primary complaint is usually pain. This may be associated with an inflammatory condition such as tendonitis, bursitis, capsulitis, or arthritis and may be labeled as impingement syndrome.


It is important that the swimmer be evaluated by a physician, physical therapist or athletic trainer, if there is pain for more than two weeks that does not improve or worsen. Sometimes swimmers will try to work through the pain and not say anything which will make the recovery longer and cause further damage to the shoulder.

The therapist will work on strengthening and endurance of the rotator cuff, posture, loss of joint mobility or excessive joint mobility, tight anterior chest musculature and hypomobility of the thoracic spine.


The coaches and swimmers need to address any incorrect stroke mechanics because this will reduce the risk of injuries, end shoulder pain, and possibly avoid surgeries.


Below is an article by Swim Swam to read and follow.


How You Can End the Pain Cycle

“Swimmers use Crossover Symmetry in 3 key ways to get rid of pain and maintain healthy shoulders.


1. Activate Before – Typically your shoulders aren’t ready to swim when you walk onto the deck. That’s because the smaller stabilizer muscles in your shoulders haven’t done a thing all day. When you suddenly throw them into a long warm-up set followed by intense, never ending intervals, they don’t perform well. The better way to approach this is some basic muscle activation exercises for the scap stabilizers and rotator cuff immediately before swimming This will get the shoulder out of impingement and ready to perform, effectively.


2. Strengthen the Weak Links – Lots of swimmers think the major muscles used for swimming- what we call the Prime Movers are the key to improving performance and preventing shoulder pain. Much of dry land training is focused on developing these Prime Movers. But swimmers are already training these muscles extremely hard every day in the pool. Instead, it’s the weak links that need to be targeted. Opposing muscle groups and smaller stabilizers get left behind with normal training, correcting these imbalances is proven to prevent pain and help you go faster.


3. Mobilize and Recover Better – Eat, sleep, train is the life of most swimmers. While this is the essence of a good training program, it’s the same stuff being done by every other competitive swimmer. To gain an edge it takes little things that add up to a massive advantage. Recover better than your competition and you will generate greater performance gains from your training. Start adding in mobility work and basic shoulder exercises to promote blood flow and proper alignment of muscle and tendons after each workout. This will better prepare the body for the next training session, so you get maximum gains”.