On the surface, it would appear that swimming injuries are rare compared to that of other sports. After all, swimming is touted to be one of the best and safest forms of exercise. The fact is that injuries do occur among novices as well as competitive swimmers. The main areas that are injured while swimming are the shoulders and the knees. However, muscle cramps also occur as well as injuries of the back and neck.
Swimmers perform a vast number of overhead arm movements during their training. It follows therefore that the shoulders are subjected to tremendous stress and microtraumas can result. These microtraumas develop into several syndromes: rotator cuff tendinopathy, biceps tendinopathy and subacromial bursitis. Overuse and instability are the main causes of these injuries followed by faulty mechanics, sudden increases in training load or intensity and the use of hand paddles.
Some technical areas of swimming that may lead to shoulder pain include striving for too much length withy each stroke or having insufficient body roll with freestyle, excessive straightening of the elbows with breaststroke, pulling through with elbows too straightened with backstroke and entering the water with the arms too far away from the body with butterfly.
Symptoms include deep shoulder pain felt at night or it may only be felt during the arc of movement when the arm is lifted from the waist to above the shoulder. If there is an impingement or a tendinopathy, pain may increase over time, as opposed to sudden pain if there is a tear. At the first sign of shoulder pain, an evaluation should be done by a physiotherapist so that rehabilitation can begin before the condition worsens. Rest and ice, in the beginning, are helpful, followed by heat and ultrasound. Rehabilitation will focus on stretching exercises to improve joint mobility and strengthening exercises for the shoulder stabilising muscles. You should cease from overhead training and from using hand paddles during the rehabilitation period.
Knee injuries involving increased stress on the medial collateral ligament (that stabilises the knee), may occur in young as well as more experienced swimmers. The capsule of the knee joint and the patella (kneecap) can also be injured while swimming. Weak vastus medialis (the inner thigh muscle which is part of the quadriceps), poor swimming mechanics and technique and decreased hamstring flexibility can contribute to these swimming injuries. Rest and icing to reduce pain and inflammation, followed by physiotherapy will help you return to swimming.
Muscle cramps while swimming can be fatal. They can be mild or painful and occur mostly in muscles that cross two joints, most commonly the calf muscle. Cramps may occur as a result of poor conditioning, muscle fatigue, dehydration or performing a new activity. If a calf cramp occurs while swimming you should flip over on your back, raise the leg in pain and use your arms to paddle to shore.
The back, neck and upper spine can also become injured while swimming as a result of being over stretched during the breast stroke and from insufficient body roll during backstroke and freestyle. To avoid back pain while swimming, you should have a swimming coach examine your technique. Sudden, jerky movements can put a strain on your neck and upper spine. If back injury does occur, you should rest from the activity, apply ice and seek physiotherapy treatment. Specially designed exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles may be what you need. Do not hesitate to call us if you have any of these injuries.