As the weather warms up, many will be opening their pools and heading to the beach. Swimming is a great way to cool off and stay fit, but since swimming is a highly repetitive sport, performing an incorrect stroke time after time can lead to injury, especially in the shoulder. The following tips may help to avoid strain and stress.
First, proper technique is important:
- To minimize strain on the shoulder, enter the water with your pinky finger first and avoid crossing your hand over the midline during the pull phase.
- Good body alignment can help reduce drag. Try to keep your hips towards the surface of water.
- Keep your arm and leg movements smooth and clean, avoiding excessively wide or deep kicks.
- The body should roll as a unit and the head should remain in line with the trunk.
- Bilateral breathing, or breathing on both sides, distributes the load on your shoulders and prevents muscular imbalances.
- Consider having your stroke analyzed by a coach. A swimming coach will be able to detect movement patterns that you may not be aware of, and show you how to correct them.
Secondly, swimmers can develop tightened muscles in the chest and weak muscles in the upper back:
- Address postural and strength imbalances with dry land resistance training.
- Focus on strengthening your scapular stabilizers and rotator cuff.
- Avoid overstretching the front of the shoulder.
Lastly, start slow! It’s important that you increase the distance and intensity of your swimming progressively, while monitoring for pain. If you have pain don’t swim through it, get it checked out by a physician or physical therapist.
Sarah McLean has a Master’s degree in Physical Therapy and a Certificate of Clinical Competency in Aquatic Physical Therapy from the American Physical Therapy Association. She is a Clinical Specialist at the James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center and Tisch Sports Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery, where she offers aquatic therapy services.