Although swimming is a relatively safe exercise because it is a low impact sport – and recommended for injury patient because swimming could reduce joint load (due to floating effects), muscle strain relaxation, improving cardiovascular health, spine mobility and strengthen muscle – swimming could also causing injury like any other sports due to repetitive movements.
The list of injuries for swimming may be shorter than that of sports like football and baseball, but competitive swimmers can still fall victim to injury. Swimmers are vulnerable to overuse injury on shoulder, neck, lower back and knee. The two most common locations for injury are the shoulders and the knees. Repetitive injury dominates injury causes in competitive swimmers, but wrong technique could also a predisposition factor of injury.
1. Swimmer’s Shoulder
Swimmers shoulder is very common, especially freestyle swimmers. The constant repetitive motion can lead to pain and inflammation due to incorrect technique or overwork in the shoulder joint. Swimmer's shoulder also known as rotator cuff impingement.
Swimmer's shoulder has the following characteristics:
Prevention starts with technique correction. When swimmers master the correct techniques there is less stress placed on the shoulder causing less pain. Along with technique correction, limiting the amount of arm heavy drills and pulling with paddles can aid tremendously in preventing further injury. Another approach to swimmer’s shoulder prevention is to incorporate orthopedic band exercises into the stretching routine daily to build shoulder strength.
Treatments for swimmers shoulder are rather simple, with a regiment of icing the affected area and anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce swelling.
2. Labrum Tear
A more severe form of swimmers shoulder, if left untreated, can result in a tear of the labrum. This injury is very serious and always requires surgery. Along with the surgery, swimmers suffering from labrum tears are expected to complete a physiotherapy regiment in order to aid in recovery and prevent muscle atrophy.
Different kinds of tears require different exercise regiments, though those recovering from surgery usually start with range of motion exercises before moving to strengthening.
Serious cases can cause swimmers to be out of the water for four to six months, though if caught before a tear occurs the period of recovery lowers drastically.
3. Breaststroker’s Knee
Breaststroker’s knee is a very common injury among swimmers who swim breaststroke, though others may also develop the injury. Due to the wide kick and over rotation of the knees during breaststroke, inner parts of the knee often become inflamed resulting in sometimes chronic pain.
However, this knee pain can be prevented. By making sure to warm up correctly and allowing the muscles to become warm before attempting the sometimes painful exercises, much of the risk of pain can be taken away. By using a modified breaststroke kick with less of a “w” shape and more focus on the technique in the hips, breaststrokes can continue to swim the stroke without pain.
It is always easier to prevent an injury with proper techniques than it is to rehabilitate after an injury has occurred, especially for knee injury which can be hard to treat.
Other Common Swimming Injuries
Knee injuries are almost exclusively to breaststrokers:
Medial collateral ligament stress syndrome
Medial synovial plica syndrome
Foot and Ankle:
Tendinitis of the extensor tendons
Wrist and Hand:
De Quervain's tenosynovitis
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Degenerative Disc Disease
Swimming Injury Treatment
Treatment involves manual therapy but more importantly, finding the root cause of the injury and modifying stroke technique to prevent the issue from reoccurring.
Common treatment modalities include:
• Adopt a good stroke technique
• Avoid overtraining in one particular style of swimming
• Core strengthening, rotator cuff strengthening and land based exercises done pre, post and during swimming season.
• TENS machine.
• Mobilizations and manipulations.
• Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation (RICE).