Making a Smarter Splash – How to Avoid Common Swimming Injuries

If you’re trying to stay in shape or just have some summertime fun, swimming can be the perfect pastime—especially if you suffer from joint or muscle pains. Famous for being low-impact and accessible for all ages, swimming can play a vital role in cardiovascular, muscular, and respiratory health.

But despite its relative ease when compared to weight training or running, casual and athletic swimming can still cause orthopaedic problems in at-risk and healthy adults alike. Knowing your limits, practicing restraint, and acknowledging pain when you feel it can keep you splashing all summer long without serious injury.

Alabama Orthopaedic Surgeons encourages every swimmer to know the risks and take precautions. Being aware of the most common swimming injuries can keep you healthy, happy, and freestyling for summers still to come.


Swimmer’s Shoulder

What it is:

As you might guess, the shoulder is the most commonly impacted joint when swimming. Nearly every style of stroke employs the shoulder in vigorous ways when pulling yourself through the water.

Swimmer’s shoulder is caused by inflammation brought on by repetitive use. Overuse of the shoulder can cause the tendon to rub irritatingly against the shoulder blade, resulting in swelling and pain. Joint stiffness and a limited range of movement are also symptomatic of swimmer’s shoulder.

How to avoid/treat it:

Since swimmer’s shoulder is most often caused by overuse, the treatment is simple: rest.  Giving your shoulder a break from the pain-inducing movement can allow the swelling to subside and get you back to normal.

Working your rotator cuff at the gym or focusing on shoulder-strengthening weight training exercises can also reduce your likelihood of this condition.


Bicep Tendonitis

What it is:

Bicep tendonitis is inflammation or irritation of the tendons in the upper bicep. The most common symptoms include weakness or pain from the front of the shoulder down into the arm. Like swimmer’s shoulder, bicep tendonitis can be caused by overuse or frequent, repetitive motions as one might use in swimming.

How to avoid/treat it:

Rest or abstention from the inciting motion can give your biceps time to heal. Best practices for preventing bicep tendonitis include regular stretching before exertion, low-intensity warm-ups, and strengthening with weight training.

As with most injuries, acknowledging the pain and limiting the affected region’s usage is the most immediate, common sense method of care.


Knee/Lower Back Discomfort

What it is:

In certain swimming strokes (like the breaststroke), the legs, hips, and lower back become more involved. Breaststroker’s knee can be caused by the “whipkick” motion used in the stroke which puts increased pressure on the knees. Even in the water, these violent kicks can cause pain, tenderness, and swelling in knees, hips, and lower back.

How to avoid/treat it:

Knowing which strokes work best for your body is method #1. Not all styles of swimming are equal in impact and some may work better for you than others.

Strengthening the hips and lower back with weight training or warm-ups can go a long way in preventing further injury or inflammation to the affected areas. Core strength is also crucial to proper form and can keep the body and stable rigid when performing complex motions in the pool.


Make a Safer Splash

As in most exercises or pastimes, proper form and good judgement are the best ways to avoid injury or unnecessary discomfort. Knowing your limits and admitting injury can keep you from permanent damage. Rest, strength training, and—as always—caution can usually take care of the rest.

The team at Alabama Orthopaedic Surgeons knows how hard you work to stay in shape. If you’re suffering from chronic pain or increased instances of inflammation despite your best practices, consider contacting Alabama Orthopaedic Surgeons for a consultation and treatment.

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