There are a number of reasons why injuries occur in swimmers. Shoulder pain is extremely common among swimmers, usually due to impingement of the tendons within the shoulder. This is often labelled as impingement syndrome or rotator cuff tendonopathy. Neck pain is also evident with swimmers which can be due to a number of different reasons. Recent research has shown that the major cause of these injuries is due to muscle weakness, muscle imbalance and biomechanical faults.
If the stabilizing muscles in the shoulder and shoulder blade are weak and tight then there will be insufficient movement at the shoulder complex during the swimming stroke. This predisposes the shoulder to impingement of the rotator cuff tendons, and overcompensation at the neck musculature.
Reduced movement at the thoracic spine also causes increased risk of shoulder impingement as the upper body is unable to extend, putting extra strain on the shoulder complex. This can also cause pain to the neck as the neck has to over extend to compensate for the reduced thoracic spine movement.
There is also increased risk of tendon damage to the shoulder with longer prolonged strokes, as it puts extra strain on the rotator cuff muscles and tendons. It may be useful therefore to shorten your stroke to reduce the risk of injury.
It is also important to ensure good body roll when swimming as this increases the efficiency of forward propulsion in front crawl and backstroke, in turn reducing the risk of injury. This can be ensured through breathing both right and left sides when completing the stroke.
Common technical errors in swimming include:
Front crawl: Increased length of the stroke, focussing too much on the pull phase. Insufficient body roll during the strokes.
Butterfly: Entering the arms in to the water too far outside the line of the shoulders or too close together.
Backstroke: Pulling through with the elbows straight instead of bent which puts extra strain on the shoulders. Insufficient body roll during the strokes.
Breaststroke: Keeping the elbows straight too much during the stroke, putting too much strain on the shoulders.
After a thorough assessment the physiotherapist will be able to ascertain the root of the injury and use a combination of the below techniques to treat the injury.
Exercise prescription can be used to restore muscle balance and the correct biomechanics, ensuring the correct muscles are working to provide stability to the shoulder complex.
Joint mobilisations can be used to increase thoracic and cervical spine movement, ensuring correct technique and reducing the strain on the shoulder.
Core stability training can be used to ensure the trunk of the body remains stable and provides a sound foundation for the upper and lower limbs to work from.
Stretching can be both prescribed and administered by the physiotherapist to ensure correct muscle length and mobility at the shoulder.
If you would like to discuss your problem before booking an appointment please give our physiotherapy team a call, we will do our best to help.