WHAT CAUSES SWIMMING INJURIES?
With overuse comes fatigue and failure to adhere to proper stroke techniques. Often swimmers demonstrate tremendous flexibility or joint laxity, which can be normal. Slight injuries and micro-trauma can cause shoulders to become unstable and lead to shoulder pain and tendinitis. Other repetitive injuries include inner knee problems and hip problems from breaststroke kicking, and back injuries from dolphin kicks or dry-land cross-training.
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON SWIMMING INJURIES?
The shoulder is the joint most commonly affected by swimming injuries or overuse. Shoulder injuries may include rotator cuff impingement — pressure on the rotator cuff from part of the shoulder blade or scapula as the arm is lifted. Biceps tendinitis (painful inflammation of the bicep tendon) and shoulder instability, in which structures that surround the shoulder joint do not work to maintain the ball within its socket, all can result from fatigue and weakness of the rotator cuff and muscles surrounding the shoulder blade.
Lower Body Injuries
Knee injuries that involve the tendons and ligaments (breaststrokers' knee) are common. Breaststrokers may also experience hip pain from inflammation of the hip tendons. Back problems, including lower back disk problems or another problem at the junction between the spine and pelvis, termed spondylolisis, may be increased by the dolphin kick often used in competitive swimming.
HOW CAN SWIMMING INJURIES BE PREVENTED AND TREATED?
Communication among athlete, parent, coach, and medical professional is critical to both swimming injury prevention and successful recovery
Use good stroke technique
Lessen repetitive strokes that are causing the overuse injury
Perform core strengthening and cross-training exercises as part of pre and early season routines
Consider alternative training techniques rather than training through an injury
Use periods of rest to recover
Focus rehabilitation efforts on rotator cuff and scapular strengthening for most shoulder injuries and pelvic and hip strengthening exercises for hip and knee injuries
Speak with a sports medicine professional or athletic trainer if you have any concerns about injuries or prevention strategies
The athlete should return to play only when clearance is granted by a health care professional
REFERENCES AND ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
Grote, K, TL Lincoln, JG Gamble. Hip adductor injury in competitive swimmers. Am J Sports Med. 32(1): 104- 108, 2004.
Kaneoka, K, K Shimizu, M Hangai, et al. Lumbar intervertebral disk degeneration in elite competitive swimmers: A case control study. Am J Sports Med. 35(8): 1341-1345, 2007.
Rodeo, SA. Knee pain in competitive swimming. Clin Sports Med. 18(2): 379-87, viii, 1999.
Wolf, BR, Injuries in swimming. Sports Medicine Update. 2-5, July/August 2009.
Wolf, BR, AE Ebinger, MP Lawler, et al. Injury patterns in Division I collegiate swimming. Am J Sports Med. 37(10): 2037-2042, 2009.
The following expert consultants contributed to the tip sheet:
Daniel J. Solomon, MD
Sports Tips provide general information only and are not a substitute for your own good judgement or consultation with a physician.