What is Swimmer’s Shoulder and How Do I Avoid It?

Swimmer’s Shoulder is an umbrella term used to describe several injuries relating to shoulder pain experienced by swimmers.

This musculoskeletal condition has a gradual onset due to the repetitive nature of swimming, resulting in symptoms in the anterior (front) and lateral (side) aspects of the shoulder.

What causes Swimmer’s Shoulder?

There are several factors that may contribute to a painful shoulder in swimmers.

Intrinsic factors

Swimmer’s shoulder usually presents itself as impingement of the rotator cuff tendon, biceps tendon or the subacromial bursa between two bones in the shoulder (a continuation of the shoulder blade called the acromion and the top of the upper arm bone known as the humeral head). Primary impingement is due to compression of the soft tissues (as a result of capsule tightness or abnormal bone structure), whereas secondary impingement is due to limitations in shoulder range of motion and stability.

Extrinsic factors

Swimmer’s shoulder can also develop from the repetitiveness, force, or stress encountered during swimming which the tissues cannot accommodate.

  • Overuse – increasing swimming load without adequate time for recovery
  • Misuse – adopting poor technique which places additional loads on the tissues
  • Abuse – excessive use of equipment (such as hand paddles)
  • Disuse – returning to swimming too quickly after a period of time off

How to reduce the risk of Swimmer’s Shoulder

Prevention and treatment of Swimmer’s Shoulder requires addressing any functional limitations in the shoulder as well and correcting any training errors.

5 Steps to Help Reduce Your Risk of Shoulder Pain

  1. Address training errors – activity modification, improving stroke technique
  2. Posture – soft tissue mobilisation, stretching and strengthening exercises to restore posture
  3. Scapular Stabilisation – strengthening the muscles around the shoulder blade
  4. Rotator cuff strength – strengthening the infraspinatus and teres minor may help to stabilise the humeral head against anterior forces
  5. Joint Mobility – a therapist can advise on capsule tightness/laxity

Implementing these changes may help to prevent the development of shoulder injuries, allowing you to focus on your swimming goals. Learn more about Swimming Injury Prevention here.

Consult a health practitioner if you struggle with persistent shoulder pain.

References

North American Journal Of Sports Physical Therapy | November 2006 | Volume 1, Number 4

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