As the swimming season progresses, there is often an increase in swimming-related injuries. Swimming is the most popular low-impact fitness activity in the country, over one million Americans are involved in recreational or competitive swimming, and more than one third of them practice and compete throughout the entire year. While competitive swimming is certainly a great way to stay fit all year, it also carries with it a risk for injury, but the good news is physical therapy can help. Here we discuss common swimming injuries, prevention of injuries, and treatment plans. The risk for these types injuries is even greater in elite swimmers, who may train more than five miles per day, which puts lots of strain on joints from the extreme repetitive motions.
The most common swimming injuries involve the shoulder joint. Shoulder injuries are so common, that 50% of swimmers will experience a shoulder injury during their career. The injury usually presents as tendinitis of the rotator cuff, secondary to overuse. In younger athletes, there tends to be more injuries to the labrum, which is the same structure that is commonly injured in baseball pitchers. These injuries usually respond well to scapular stabilization programs, meaning strengthening of the large muscle groups that connect the shoulder blade to the torso.
Swimmers also commonly get injuries that occur in the low-back. Athletes that are younger than 40, are prone to stress fractures in the low-back. These stress fractures can be caused by hyperextension, stress from diving, or underwater kicking. In athletes over 40, low-back injuries are primarily degenerative disc changes, due to the repetitive nature of the sport. These athletes will occasionally have acute disc herniations. These injuries usually respond to a period of rest followed by rehabilitation that focuses on core strengthening.
How Rehabilitation can help?
Rehabilitation is very important for swimming injuries. Developing strength through the torso will help connect the shoulders and the low-back, and prevent both types of injuries. The main exercise that will help stabilize both the shoulder and the low-back, are standing rows. This exercise will strengthen the muscles of the torso and shoulder, primarily the lower trapezius and the serratus anterior.
How to Reduce swimming injuries
The best way to reduce injury risk is to ensure that you’re practicing and competing with the proper technique, but at Health Plus Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Center, we recommend the following for treating and preventing swimming-related injuries:
• Warm up and stretch—especially the shoulder—before every swim
• Avoid overuse injuries by mixing up strokes and spending less time practicing those that are causing pain; also be sure that sufficient rest is taken
• Practice good communication between coaches, swimmers and sports trainers
• Take some time off rather than pushing through pain, which can make it worse
• Our physical therapists can help with a training program that will likely include core-strengthening exercises, shoulder-strengthening exercises, hip-strengthening exercises and flexibility exercises to increase shoulder range of motion
Health Plus Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Center in Edison, New Jersey can help you keep your swimming injury risk at a minimum. Call us at 732-494-5999 for more information or to schedule an appointment.