For most people, swimming, whether recreational or competitive, is a safe, efficient form of exercise. Swimming provides a low-impact, supported workout, which builds your cardiovascular fitness, endurance and muscle strength, as well as maintaining your weight at the right level.
Nevertheless, the repetitive nature of the swimming stroke can cause musculoskeletal injuries, most commonly in the shoulder, back and knee, caused not by trauma, but by simple overuse. As with any injury, prevention is better than cure when it comes to swimming injuries, so we’ve highlighted the most common injuries and explained how physiotherapy can help you to avoid them.
Generally, swimming injuries can be divided into three broad categories – ‘swimmers shoulder’, ‘swimmers knee’ and back pain – based on the symptoms they cause.
Swimmers shoulder is a generic term used to describe a variety of musculoskeletal conditions that cause inflammation in the muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff, which provide stability to the ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder. Pinching of injured, swollen tendons by the bones of the shoulder joint, technically known as ‘impingement’, is the most common injury in swimmers. Typical symptoms of swimmers’ shoulder include localised pain when you raise your arm, particularly above your head, tenderness in the affected area and a decreased range of movement.
Like swimmers shoulder, so-called swimmers knee is a repetitive, overuse injury, most commonly suffered by breaststroke swimmers. The repetitive nature of the ‘frog kick’ employed in breaststroke can inflame, or tear, the medial collateral ligament on the inside of the knee, causing pain and restricted movement.
Paradoxically, swimming is often suggested as a treatment for back pain, but strokes such as breaststroke and butterfly, which force unnatural arching of the lumber, or lower, spine, can cause or exacerbate back problems. Poor stroke technique or weakness in the muscles of your core, or trunk, causes overcompensation by the muscles of your lower back, leading to spasm and pain.
Injury Prevention & Physiotherapy
A thorough screening and injury prevention programme, supervised by a professional physiotherapist like Paul McLoughlin and his team at Turramurra Physiotherapy, experienced in swimming and with a technical understanding of all four strokes – that is, freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly – can reduce your likelihood of suffering common overuse injuries as a result of swimming.
In the first instance, a Turramurra Sports & Spinal Physiotherapist can provide education and advice on the fundamentals of injury-free swimming, including correct stroke technique, posture and so on, and help you to understand the role the various parts of your body play. For example, hypermobility or hypomobility in your joints and muscles, including in your shoulders, neck, upper and lower back and thighs, can be the cause of joint pain and other symptoms. Swimmers’ shoulder, to name but one, can be the result of muscle imbalances caused by an improper training regime.
Nevertheless, Turramurra Sports & Spinal Physiotherapists can prescribe a variety of exercises to improve your strength in key areas, such as your rotator cuff and shoulder blade muscles, and address the balance. Similarly, Paul McLoughlin and his team can offer a selection of hands-on treatments, including manipulation and soft tissue work, to loosen restricted joints and ‘tight’ muscles, which will not only reduce your likelihood of injury, but also increase your performance as a swimmer. Contact Turramurra Phyiotherapy on 02 9144 1510.
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