What causes shoulder injuries in swimmers?
Shoulder injuries are the most common injuries amongst swimmers. Several factors contribute to this. These include training errors, such as overuse (too much), misuse (poor technique), abuse (excessive force, such as when using hand paddles), and disuse (lack of use resulting in muscle weakening).
The repetitive overhead activity of the swimming stroke can result in fatigue of the shoulder muscles, including the rotator cuff, scapular muscles and muscles of the upper and lower back.
This can lead to distinct changes in the function of the shoulder, resulting in pain that is commonly known as “swimmer’s shoulder.” Slight injuries and micro-trauma can cause shoulders to become unstable and lead to shoulder pain, impingement and tendinitis.
Other factors contributing to shoulder injuries include muscle imbalances around the shoulder complex, altered control of the shoulder blade and poor posture.
How can shoulder injuries be prevented in swimmers?
- A comprehensive exercise program to develop strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility of the muscles is the most important way to prevent “swimmer’s shoulder”
- Perform proper pre and post-swimming exercises as prescribed by a coach or physiotherapist who works with swimmers
- Use proper stroke technique
- Lessen repetitive strokes that are causing the overuse injury
- Use periods of rest to recover
- Early intervention in critical. The sooner you report your injury, the sooner rehab can begin and the faster your injury can be dealt with.
- Communication among athlete, parent, coach, and medical professional is critical to both injury prevention and successful recovery.
How can Physiotherapy help prevent shoulder injuries amongst swimmers?
Physiotherapists are experts in understanding movement and function, rehabilitating injuries, and prescribing exercises to optimize physical performance. We also play an important role in educating clients about injury prevention and management.
For swimmers, a physiotherapist can help in several ways to prevent shoulder injuries:
- Perform a comprehensive body assessment to address impairments in posture, joint movement/control, strength and flexibility.
- Use hands-on-techniques to restore muscle imbalances, movement and posture
- Develop a comprehensive exercise program to ensure the swimmer has the proper strength, movement and control when swimming
- Educate the swimmer on ways to minimize shoulder pain both in and out of the water.
- Work with the coaching staff to implement an appropriate injury prevention program.
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Reza Ghannadan is a Physiotherapist who has a keen interest in working with swimmers. He is a swimmer and currently works with the Chena Swim Club in North Vancouver as their Physiotherapist for Injury Prevention.