At this point in the swim season it’s not uncommon for swimmers to experience injuries. Shoulder injuries are one of the most common types of injuries experienced by swimmers. The repetitive overhead motion required for swimming, in combination with the long hours of training, can lead to a variety of shoulder issues, such as rotator cuff problems, impingement syndrome, and biceps tendonitis. These injuries can be frustrating as they can impact your performance and ability to train. The therapists at Sheddon Physiotherapy and Sports Clinic can play a crucial role in helping swimmers recover from injuries, manage pain, and prevent future injuries from occurring. In this article, we’ll outline exercises that can benefit swimmers to help prevent shoulder injuries, and provide some tips on how to stay healthy and painfree in the water.
Shoulder Injury Causes
Swimmers who train intensely or competitively, are particularly vulnerable to shoulder injuries and pain. Shoulder pain is one of the most common complaints among swimmers, and it can be caused by a variety of factors, such as:
- Poor stroke technique;
- Muscle imbalances;
- Inadequate warm-up.
Shoulder Injury Prevention
It’s important for swimmers to take steps to prevent shoulder injuries from occurring in the first place. This includes warming up properly before training or competition, gradually increasing the intensity and duration of workouts, and practicing good technique to reduce strain on the shoulders. Swimmers can also work on strengthening, scapular stability, as well as postural exercises to help prevent future shoulder injuries.
Before beginning a workout, it is important to make sure you get a good warm up. This helps prevent injury and gets the body ready to work at its optimal level. Before workouts you want to spend time doing dynamic stretching, because it’s a great way to prepare the body for exercise. Dynamic stretching simply means you are moving through a stretch from one end range to another. In some circumstances you can hold for a few seconds and continue through the motion. Here is a great warm up video for swimmers with our chiropractor Dr Keirstyn.
Swimmers rely heavily on their shoulder muscles to propel themselves through the water, making shoulder strengthening exercises a crucial part of the training routine. In addition to shoulder strengthening exercises, swimmers also need to have strong hips and core muscles to maintain proper stroke mechanics, alignment, and to generate power while swimming. If these muscles are weak, swimmers will compensate with the upper body and put extra stress on the shoulders. Try the following core exercises in the video below to reduce the risk of injury and improve your swimming performance.
Scapular stability is an important factor in preventing and managing shoulder injuries in swimmers. The scapula, or shoulder blade, helps to maintain proper alignment, stability and control of the shoulder joint. Our Physiotherapist Mitch put together 3 great scapular stability exercises to strengthen the shoulder and help reduce injury.
Swimmers are at risk of developing posture problems due to the repetitive nature of the sport and muscle imbalances between the back and chest muscles. A common posture problem seen with swimmers is something called upper cross syndrome. Upper cross syndrome involves a forward head, rounded shoulders and rounded upper back. Muscle imbalances associated with this include:
- Tight chest muscles
- Stiff thoracic spine (upper back)
- Weak scapular stabilizers
- Tight posterior shoulder capsule
Incorporating the exercises above to strengthen the core and scapular stabilizers can help swimmers posture and reduce the risk of injury. In addition, the exercises shown in this older post are also great for upper cross syndrome, click here to watch. Finally, these thoracic mobility exercises shown in this video are great for swimmers with a stiff upper back, click here to watch.
Practical Tips for Athletes, Coaches and Trainers:
1. Athletes need to let their coaches/trainers/therapist know as soon as a new pain develops. The earlier an injury is addressed, the less likely it will become a chronic problem.
2. Improve stroke technique – Due to the repetitive nature of swimming, an improper stroke repeated over and over will eventually lead to injury.
3. Coaches and trainers need to be aware of changes in stroke. Athletes will make subtle changes during their stroke to avoid pain and/or injury. Rehabilitation following an injury should focus on physiotherapy, strengthening as well as improvement in stroke flaws.
4. A Pre Season Screening (or very early in the season) of the athletes is the best time to find and correct problems.
5. Identify the source of the pain in order to know how to modify/change training:
- Have stroke mechanics changed?
- Has the intensity, frequency or length of workouts changed?
If you are interested in an exercise program for injury prevention, or are currently struggling with an injury, the therapists at Sheddon can help get you back in the pool injury-free. Contact us for more details here.
Erin Shapcott is a registered physiotherapist working in Orthopaedics for over 10 years. She graduated from The University of Western Ontario with her Masters of Physiotherapy. Prior to this, she attended McGill University and completed a Bachelor in Kinesiology and a Masters in Sport Psychology. She has also completed courses in vestibular rehabilitation, acupuncture, golf rehabilitation and injury prevention, concussion management, as well as prevention and treatment of running injuries. She has been writing articles for Sheddon for the past 8 years.