Don’t let “Swimmer’s Shoulder” drag you under this season
INJURY AVOIDANCE : Hunter Greene, M.D.
As swim season hits full stride and swimmers start ratcheting up their training, we’re going to talk about shoulder problems. Poor stroke mechanics, training errors, overuse and muscular imbalances are some of the elements that can contribute to shoulder pain in swimmers.
So, how do you avoid overuse injuries and biomechanical problems, often referred to as “swimmer’s shoulder?” One of the most important things for a swimmer to understand is the difference between normal muscle soreness and fatigue versus early symptoms of an injury, such as decreased range of motion, weakness or pain.
If the symptoms seem abnormal, try to determine any contributing factors, such as changes in intensity, distances or stroke mechanics. The sooner you notice and address a potential problem, the better the chance for a fast and complete recovery.
Some things to keep in mind:
>> Address shoulder weakness
Another important aspect of injury prevention and rehabilitation is strength and conditioning. Due to the unstable nature of the shoulder, a strong and stable scapula (shoulder blade) is important. Scapular weakness can contribute to a faulty stroke and put increased stress on the rotator cuff and biceps. Two areas to pay special attention to are the internal rotators of the shoulder and the scapular stabilizers, which have been shown to be more prone to fatigue in freestyle swimmers.
>> Stretch, but not too much
Finally, to minimize the risk of injury, be cautious with stretching. Most swimmers are not lacking in flexibility and actually have a tendency to be hypermobile. Try to avoid partner stretching, which can be too aggressive. A gentle 5-10 minute upper extremity warm-up should be enough to increase blood flow and prepare the muscles for a workout.
If you do experience persistent shoulder pain that is something other than normal muscular soreness, be sure to see a physician or other sports medicine professional.
Remember, you need to pay attention to your body. If you push through and ignore pain, the inflammatory response will increase and make the pain more widespread. This will make it harder to pinpoint a diagnosis and focus the treatment on the source of the pain.
Wishing you a fun and healthy swim season.
Hunter Greene, M.D., is a board certified orthopedic surgeon with Summit Orthopedic Specialists in Carmichael. He specializes in adult and pediatric sports medicine.
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