Avid swimmers are prone to a variety of ailments, like swimmer’s ear when they’re young and athlete’s foot when they don’t take precautions around public pools. But swimmer’s shoulder is the most common problem for serious swimmers, especially those who practice the sport competitively. So, let’s answer some of the fundamental questions about swimmer’s shoulder:
What Is Swimmer’s Shoulder?
This isn’t one precisely defined condition. Rather, when people talk about swimmer’s shoulder, they’re using a catch-all term for shoulder pain affecting a swimmer’s shoulder joint, muscles, tendons, and/or ligaments. But it’s not pain caused by an acute injury; it’s an overuse or repetitive motion injury.
What Causes Swimmer’s Shoulder?
The shoulder is the most heavily used joint in swimming. Swimmer’s shoulder results from chronic, repeated rotations of the shoulder and ongoing irritation. Consider that a 4,000-yard swim workout involves, on average, nearly 1,300 rotations per arm.
What Are Risk Factors for Swimmer’s Shoulder?
A number of contributing factors can play into development of swimmer’s shoulder. Typical ones include over-training, continuing to swim past the point of fatigue, inadequate recovery time, poor stroke technique, weak rotator cuff muscles, hypermobility, and failure to stretch properly before and after swimming.
What Are Symptoms of Swimmer’s Shoulder?
Since swimmer’s shoulder is an umbrella term for different problems, symptoms vary by individual. Generally though, there’s noticeable shoulder pain during swimming, and often during other uses of the joint. In severe cases, there may be soreness even without use. During a swim, the pain tends to be the worst during backstroke. Pain may be experienced when sleeping on the affected side, too.
Are There Complications with Swimmer’s Shoulder?
Left untreated, swimmer’s shoulder continues to worsen. It can lead to complications like rotator cuff impingement and tears, tendonitis, bursitis, and damage to area ligaments, capsules, or cartilage.
How Is Swimmer’s Shoulder Diagnosed?
It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis for swimmer’s shoulder, including the causes. That requires seeing a doctor, physical therapist, sports medicine practitioner, orthopedist, chiropractor, or other qualified healthcare provider who’s versed in the mechanics of swimming. A detailed history, accounting of the symptoms, and physical examination should provide a diagnosis. Imaging tests aren’t usually necessary.
How Is Swimmer’s Shoulder Treated
Successful treatment depends on the precise causes of each case of swimmer’s shoulder. Always follow your healthcare provider’s treatment plan. Refraining from swimming to rest the shoulder until pain-free for a few days is important to recuperation, as is reduced training and gradual buildup when resuming. Otherwise, recurrence can be expected.
Icing the shoulder for 20 to 30 minutes after training can help relieve pain and swelling. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen are good for reducing pain and inflammation; for severe cases, prescription-strength NSAIDs or steroids may be prescribed.
A sling or shoulder tape may be advised in the beginning, and sometimes it’s helpful to sleep propped up by pillows. Rehabilitation exercises are often used, and therapies like massage and triggerpoint work help in many instances.