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Shoulder injuries are the most common injuries in swimmers. Typically, swimmers experience pain due to the rotator cuff tendons being pinched and becoming inflamed – this is known as shoulder impingement. Due to its frequency among swimmers, this particular condition is often referred to as “swimmer’s shoulder”. In more severe cases, the tendons can wear down (degenerate) and eventually tear. Swimmer’s shoulder is often described as an “overuse injury”. This term is problematic though, as it implies that the only issue is swimming too much. It also implies that the only way to get better is to swim less or stop swimming altogether. Swimming is a whole body activity, and the forward propulsion of your body in the water requires co-ordination between your arms, legs and torso. A deficiency in other parts of your body means that you will rely more on your shoulders to pull yourself through the water. In these cases, the shoulder is overloaded. It is therefore more appropriate to think of swimmer’s shoulder as an “overload” injury, rather than an “overuse” injury. While training volume can be a part of the issue, it is not the whole problem. Common causes of overload include:
Addressing these issues is an important part in recovering from “swimmer’s shoulder”. A period of rest from swimming may be required as part of the initial management, but properly addressing any biomechanical issues will help to unload your shoulders, allow you to return to your full volume of training, and even improve your swimming performance!