According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than a million recreational and competitive swimmers in the US. With over 300 million visits each year, it’s definitely a popular competitive sport as well as recreational activity. So popular, in fact, that it ranks fourth in the United States and is even the most popular activity for children and teens. Its low-impact on the body makes it a perfect physical activity for just about anyone. However, despite its low impact, swimmers still get injured. In fact, roughly 30% of swimmers miss training during the year due to swimming injuries.
The majority of injuries caused by swimming are never acute but rather from overuse, poor training, and poor technique. Despite the relatively high rate of injury for such a low impact sport, most of these injuries can be prevented.
1. Swimmer’s Shoulder
Not surprisingly, shoulder injuries are the biggest offenders when it comes to swimming injuries. The constant usage of the shoulder during swimming results in stress of the joint, commonly leading to overuse and pain. Especially if you have poor technique, poor training, muscle imbalance, or joint instability, you’ll be more prone to injury and pain.
In particular, swimmer’s shoulder is usually the result of lack of stroke variation. Swimming laps on end with only using the freestyle stroke can lead to this type of injury. The constant repetitive motion results in inflammation and pain if you don’t take a break from the constant motion. It stresses and overworks the joint.
If you plan on being in the pool for a long time, vary your stroke every few laps to work the muscle and ligaments around the joint in a different way. Take adequate breaks. More importantly, make sure you have good technique and form in the pool.
2. Rotator Cuff Tendonitis Or Tears
Like swimmer’s shoulder, injuries to the rotator cuff are caused by poor technique and overuse. Usually, rotator cuff tendonitis and tears are caused by untreated swimmer’s shoulder. Usually, it results in surgery and a long rehabilitation time. You can tell if you have a rotator cuff injury if you can barely extend your arm over the shoulder. A more serious form of the injury, or if there’s a tear, will result in pain regardless of how you move your arm. This is why it’s important to rest, ice, and treat your shoulder when you first start experience pain to avoid further injury or tears.
Like mentioned above, you should seek treatment for swimmer’s shoulder before it leads to a tear. Avoiding overtraining and sudden increases in training intensity will help in preventing shoulder injuries. Strengthening the muscles around the shoulder as well as using proper technique will go a long way in preventing these types of swimming injuries.
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3. Neck Pain
Somewhat surprisingly, swimmers also suffer from neck pain. This is due mostly to poor technique and holding too much tension in the neck. It can also be the result of a shoulder injury starting to brew as you start to use your neck muscles to support your weakened shoulder. The repetitive motion of turning your head or lifting it above water also causes strain and stress on the small muscles of the neck. This constant straining can lead to chronic pain which may not subside for several days.
Stretching your neck and shoulders adequately as well as warming them up properly will help prevent pain. Furthermore, doing targeted exercises for strengthening the neck will help eliminate the effects of strain. And, once again, proper technique is always important in preventing injuries.
4. Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain is common for butterfly swimmers as well as those who do the breaststroke. The cause of lower back pain is as much related to core strength as it is simply the usage of the back muscles. Poor core stability and strength will cause over-usage and too much stress on the back muscles, which leads to pain and injury.
Since poor core strength causes lower back pain it makes sense then to ensure you properly strengthen your core to prevent pain. However, core strengthening does not just entail crunches and sit-ups. Rather it’s exercising the hips and pelvic region as well as the upper and lower back.
Swimming Injuries Are Common But Preventable
Most swimming injuries are completely preventable. But, due to lack of education and knowledge, the injury rate is still relatively high for swimmers. Proper form and technique in and out of the pool is the biggest way to prevent most overuse injuries. However, ensuring adequate rest, gradual increasing in training intensity, and proper cross training will help in injury prevention as well as increase your performance.