On the surface it would appear that swimming injuries are rare compared to that of other sports. After all, swimming is touted to be one of the best and safest forms of exercise. The fact is that injuries do occur among novices as well as competitive swimmers. The main areas that are injured while swimming are the shoulder and the knee. These injuries are generally known as swimmers shoulder and breast-stroke knee respectively. However, muscle cramps also occur as well as injuries of the back and neck.
Swimmers perform a vast number of overhead arm movements during the course of their training. It follows therefore that the shoulders are subjected to tremendous stress and micro-traumas can result. These micro-traumas develop into a number of syndromes: rotator cuff tendonitis, biceps tendonitis and subacromial tendonitis. Overuse and instability are the main causes of swimmers shoulder followed by faulty mechanics, sudden increases in training load or intensity and the use of hand paddles.
Symptoms of swimmers shoulder are deep shoulder pain felt at night or it may only be felt in a painful arc between the shoulder and the waist. If there is an impingement, pain may increase over time, as opposed to sudden pain if there is a tear. At the first sign of swimmers shoulder, an evaluation should be done by a physiotherapist so that rehabilitation can begin before the condition worsens. Rest and ice in the beginning are helpful, followed by moist heat and/or ultrasound. Rehabilitation will focus on stretching exercises to improve joint mobility and isometric exercises (muscle contracts without movement) for strengthening. You should cease from overhead training and from using hand paddles.
Knee injuries involving increased stress on the medial collateral ligament (that stabilises the knee), may occur in young as well as more experienced swimmers. The capsule and the patella (kneecap) can also be injured while swimming. Weak vastus medialis (the inner thigh muscle which is part of the quadriceps), poor mechanics and decreased hamstring flexibility can contribute to these swimming injuries. Rest and icing to reduce pain and inflammation, followed by physiotherapy will help you return to swimming.
Muscle cramps while swimming can be fatal. They can be mild or painful and occur mostly in muscles that cross two joints, example the calf muscle. Cramps may occur as a result of poor conditioning, muscle fatigue, dehydration or performing a new activity. If a cramp occurs while swimming you should flip over on your back, raise the leg high and massage the location, while using one arm to paddle to shore.
The back, neck and upper spine can also become injured while swimming as a result of being over stretched during the breast stroke and from repetitive motions during the frontward strokes. To avoid back pain while swimming, you should examine your technique. Sudden, jerky movements can put strain on your neck and upper spine. Wearing a life vest or other flotation device can help you maintain proper form while swimming. If back injury does occur, you should rest from the activity, apply ice and seek physiotherapy treatment. Specially designed exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles may be what you need. Do not hesitate to call us if you have any of these injuries.