Shoulder Injuries and Swimming

by Pool Builders on 03-01-2011 in Articles

Competitive sports go hand in hand with injuries and other risks. Although competitive swimming involves a lot fewer types of injuries as in contact sports, for example, there are some injuries associated with swimming. Shoulder injuries are the most common injury suffered either in the pool or in open water.

I've been a competitive swimmer for around 25 years off and on. During high school, I'd do 15,000 meter days and double workouts being normal workouts in some cases. I swam both freestyle and backstroked and didn't have any shoulder problems until my freshman year in college. That's when I started using tools like pull buoys and paddles. I was 19 years old, and at first I ignored the pain, thinking that if I pushed through it and took a rest at the end of the season, I'd be fine. But when I came back at the beginning of the next season, the pain was worse than ever. I went to my doctor, who diagnosed rotator cuff tendonitis. I did a few months of rehabilitation and got back into daily swimming after that, but I've had shoulder problems off and on ever since.

There are many ways to injure your shoulder. Most doctors and injury experts talk about overuse, but that is a very general term and doesn't really explain the mechanics of how the injury takes place. Here are some more specific ways you can injure your shoulder:

* asymmetrical strength development
* a too-sudden increase in intensity or duration of training
* a sudden change in routine where you incorporate hand paddles or pull buoys
* performing one stroke for an extended period
* improper technique (ex - over reaching causes cross over, and therefore tension)

Ways you can prevent shoulder injury

1. Breathing to one side rather than bilaterally ends up with the muscles on one side of your body more developed than the other. You might find it difficult or awkward in the beginning to breathe bilaterally. Start adding it into just your warm-ups and cool-downs, then gradually into the rest of your routine, and you'll soon notice the benefits.

2. If you're just starting out, or starting back after a break from swimming, make sure you slowly increase the intensity and duration of your swims. This is the same as with weight lifting or running - injuries occur from over-training. Slowly build up to where you were (or where you want to be). If you used to swim 5,000 meters, start back with 1,000 and add a couple hundred meters every day until you get back to (or up to) your goal distance.

3. Don't use paddles or pull buoys. Even though they are tempting, they put stress on the shoulders and elbows while at the same time, give you a sense of flotation. Some are designed to reduce the joint tension, but you're still better off training without using this type of flotation device.

4. While you might think it sounds like a good idea to practice only freestyle while you train for your triathlon, it's really not. First of all, you'll see more benefits if you cross train with different types of strokes. More importantly, overuse injuries arise from this single-minded focus on one stroke.

5. Finally, one of the most important things you can do to prevent shoulder injury is to keep your elbows bent underwater while you pull. This keeps you from overreaching and putting your shoulder in an awkward position, causing rotator cuff injuries.

After Rehab

If you're recovering from a shoulder injury, try out some fins. Both Hydro Finz and Zoomers work really well. This serves three purposes:

1. It takes pressure off your shoulders.
2. You get a great cardio workout.
3. Your legs get a great workout.

The only good thing about shoulder injuries is that they force us to slow down, take a break, and to listen to our bodies. It allows us to concentrate on our technique and form.

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