4 Techniques To Help Prevent Swimmers Shoulder Injury

Thu, 09/05/2013 - 13:34

There are four main swimming strokes; namely breaststroke, freestyle, butterfly, backstroke. Each use a variety of different muscles in different ways. Breaststroke is a fairly different motion as opposed to the rest – so for the purposes of this article we will be referring to the latter three. There are many muscles which are involved in efficiently moving the shoulder. They can be broadly divided into stabilizers and movers. The ‘stabilisers’ are often overpowered by the ‘movers’ (i.e the movers are doing two jobs – both moving and stabilizing). It is at this point that someone becomes vulnerable to injuries. To better understand how the shoulder works in swimming, one can liken the torso to a canoe and a paddle mechanism, with the hand representing the oars. The rotator cuff functions like the Canoeist (stabilizing the main shoulder joint), allowing the ‘moving muscles’ to pull the arm through the water. (similar to how a canoeist stabilizes the oar to allow it to pull through the water).

Most swimmers (competitive and social) will feel some form of discomfort in the shoulder area at some stage of their swimming ‘career’.  Sometimes this pain can become too much and result in a visit to see a Physiotherapist.

Swimming with the correct technique can help to prevent a large amount of injuries, as well as improving efficiency in the water. A Biokineticist, and some Physiotherapists can assist in improving upon technique with the use of a video analysis, and specific strength exercises. This would be done by taking a video and then assessing where your weaknesses lie. The following four tips will assist in the prevention of a shoulder injury:

1. Body Rotation
Developing a good, symmetrical body rotation is very important, as it keeps the strain equal on both shoulders. To do this one should ensure that one breath is taken every three strokes (alternating left and right per breath).

Swimming with a stiff, or flat body causes the arm which should be in the air (resting) to be forced out to the side. This “out-to-the-side” action causes a lot of internal rotation at the main shoulder joint, which is a large precursor for rotator cuff strains (tears) and impingement (rubbing of tendons or nerves on the bone/other tissue surrounding them).

2. Placing the hand into the water

It is important to insure that your hand enters flat (fingers, rather than thumb first). When the hand enters the water thumb-first, internal rotation at the shoulder is increased, again increasing the likelihood of impingement. When swimming further, and faster this can lead to “over-use” injuries, which will need assistance from a physiotherapist to reverse. Rather insure that the four fingers cut through the water first (palm facing the bottom of the pool) to take tension off the shoulder.

3. Posture

Due to our daily activities and stresses, we tend to end up in a hunched position. This can cause problems when swimming, as it increases the tendency for the arms to come across the body, rather than out straight in front of the shoulder. This again causes internal ration, as well as adduction (bringing the arm across the body). When these two movements are combined, the chances of impingement and pain are much higher.

To avoid this, a simple stretch of the front chest muscles (pectorals) should be done (2x30sec holds, twice a day). This can be done by standing in a doorway. This should be combined with scapular setting or stabilization exercises.  Whilst swimming you should try to keep your shoulders back and chest forward (allowing the arms to pull directly backward rather than sideways (thereby increasing power!)

4. Catch and Pull Through

This is generally the more difficult ‘fine tuning’, and is difficult to detect without an underwater video. Most people tend to pull with quite a straight arm, rather than a slightly bent, ‘high’ elbow. This places more strain on the shoulder. To avoid this, it is important to try to keep the elbow slightly bent under the water, thereby taking more strain off the shoulder joint.

These four strategies should assist in the prevention of shoulder injuries, and lead to a more powerful and efficient swimming technique.

Kath Fennemore is a Physiotherapist at Physical IQ.com

Contact Kath on 0312011789

Photo via Yogabenefitsinfo.com

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