All too often young swimmers develop a nagging shoulder pain that seems to linger for a long time and significantly impact one’s performance. While the actual condition can be attributed to any number of things, most injuries to the shoulder complex are related to some form of overuse and can be prevented by following some simple tips.
Unfortunately, some swimmers show up for the first day of a seasonal practice and use the time to “get in shape”. One way to prevent swimmer’s shoulder from occurring is to show up “in shape” for the first team practice. This will allow your coach to begin more intense training without worrying about team members developing overuse injuries.
One of the most common situations that can lead to overuse injuries of the shoulder involves increasing one’s distance too quickly without building up tolerance and endurance for longer training periods. Trying to increase distance or times too soon requires muscles too work overtime without proper preparation. In turn, these muscles break down and the tissue doesn’t have adequate time to repair itself for the next session. The ultimate result is a muscle strain that is a form of swimmer’s shoulder.
Proper stretching and strength training is also important as an adjunct to swimming technique when trying to avoid shoulder injuries. Stretching and strengthening should not only include the shoulder muscles, but also core muscles of the trunk (stomach and back) as well the legs (quadriceps and hamstrings) should be included to develop a well-balanced body. Any imbalance between upper and lower muscle groups can also lead to injury. For example, if one performs a breaststroke and has lower leg muscle weakness and inflexibility, the upper extremity (shoulders and truck) will be required to work harder to maintain performance levels. This could lead to a shoulder injury, and the root of the cause would not even be the shoulder itself!
While not all injuries can be prevented during swimming, many overuse injuries to the shoulder can be avoided by simple prevention interventions.