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How to Avoid Shoulder Injury with Swimming

11 Mar 2014
Randall Cooper
Summer is here and for many of us it’s time to include some swimming as part a training or fitness routine. Swimming is a great activity for the whole body, but it can lead to problems, particularly overuse injuries of the shoulder (rotator cuff tendon issues, bursitis, impingement etc). It’s boring to say I know, but please build your training up gradually. Other than that, please read on and keep the following points in mind.

Work on your technique Swimming is about efficiency, not brut strength. The better you glide in the water, the less effort it is, and the lower your chance of injury.

Start each session with a warm up, stretch, and some technique drills. Single arms, catch up, kicking, and sculling drills are great. Also, don’t forget to kick!

Although kicking only produces about 10% of the forward propulsion force, a good kick gets the body into a hydrodynamic position, reducing drag, and reducing the stress on the shoulders. Take care when fatigued Muscular fatigue and poor technique in the pool is a bad combination. For most swimmers, when fatigue sets in their technique starts to falter, with the legs dropping in the water, additional side to side (snaking) movements, and a heavy and short stroke. The key to swimming in a fatigued state is to maintain your form. It’s a skill that can be learnt, but the harder things get, the more you need to concentrate on your stroke, body position, and efficiency. Think back to your technique drills during these phases, not only will it help you prevent injury, but you just might start swimming faster as well. Improve your thoracic flexibility The thoracic spine is the section of your spine between the base of your neck and the upper part of your lower back. The thoracic spine is the kingpin for swimming efficiency, and having enough thoracic extension (straightening) is of high importance. An extended thoracic spine during swimming allows for a great body position, takes stress of the neck and lower back, and opens up the shoulders increasing the space between top of the humerus (arm bone) and the acromium (tip of the shoulder) where impingement (swimmers’ shoulder) occurs. Improve your posture (all the time!) Good posture in the pool is important for swimming efficiency, and most of the time it’s easy to remember to adopt a good posture whilst swimming. However being hunched over the computer all day long, or sitting poorly in meetings for hours on end can tighten up muscles such as the pecs and hip flexors, and stiffness joints in the spine. Tightness and stiffness in these areas leads to a suboptimal position in the water, so being mindful of your posture throughout your day will benefit your swimming and reduce your chance of seeing someone like me. Know good pain from bad pain If you’re swimming hard, muscles will get tired and fatigued, and for many people this will “hurt”. A general and non-specific tiredness/soreness in muscles is good, and a normal part of training. Bad pain is pathological pain with people describing their pain sensations as catching, piercing, burning, or throbbing. With swimmers it’s important to distinguish these different types of pain particularly around the shoulders. Good pain is good, bad pain needs to be checked out sooner rather than later.

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