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Most competitive swimmers have most likely experienced swimmer’s shoulder or shoulder pain at some point or another in their swimming career. In this article, we will discuss 7 awesome swimmer’s shoulder treatment methods.
“What is swimmers shoulder?”
Swimmer’s shoulder is a condition where the swimmer aggravates their shoulder whilst swimming due to the constant joint rotation. The condition is also known as shoulder impingement
This condition is not uncommon among swimmers whatsoever since the shoulder joints are an extremely mobile and used point in swimming.
Swimmers can easily rotate their shoulders as much as a thousand times in an hour, especially when swimming freestyle.
It has been reported by studies that 47% of collegiate swimmers have experienced shoulder pain that lasted 3 weeks or longer and that 48% of master swimmers have also experienced it despite training significantly less.
This repetitive rotational movement of the shoulder joints can cause your rotator cuffs to tire out and being positioned improperly will allow the surrounding muscles and tissues to rub against each other.
This can ultimately lead to irritation and inflammation. It can lead to pain if you keep on swimming.
This pain will not go away unless you reduce the inflammation in the muscle tissues, as well as stretch and restrain the rotator cuff muscles.
A lot of the time swimmer’s shoulder may be caused by the following-
- Bad swimming technique
- Overuse of certain muscles, also known as over-training
- Tight muscle tissue
- Previous shoulder injuries
- Use of paddles that are too large for the swimmer
The most obvious sign of swimmer’s shoulder is obviously pain. A lot of the time it will feel like the pain is deeply set inside of your muscle tissue.
Usually, it will feel like the pain is along the back of your shoulder, but is some cases you may also feel pain at the front of your shoulder.
The repetitive movement of overhead reaching, like swimming can worsen this pain. There are many different parts of the shoulder that you can injure when swimming.
Sometimes you may feel pain close to your shoulder joint and sometimes you will feel pain traveling up your neck and shoulder or down your arm.
A quick overview of what we are going to discuss later on-
- Rest your shoulder
- Apply ice to your shoulder
- Use anti-inflammatory medications
- Stretch your shoulder
- Do rehabilitation exercises that strengthen your rotator cuffs
- Modify or change the way you swim
- Get a professional to work on your shoulder
It is important to address the situation as soon as you start feeling pain since other injuries may start to occur if you don’t.
With that being said many swimmers might freak out or become anxious when starting to experience shoulder pain in the fear of losing all of their hard-earned progress that they have made over the past few months or years.
Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed and slightly stressed out right now. The best thing you can do is to stay calm, assess the situation and decide what would be best to do next.
Let’s start by assessing the situation-
Start by deciding on the severity of your shoulder pain
It would be best to start by deciding on the severity of your swimmer’s shoulder. This way you can have a rough idea on what to do next.
If you are only experiencing mild to moderate shoulder pain I would recommend you to just start by resting your shoulder for a few days until the pain has passed.
You may decide to still go to practice, keep in mind this is at your own risk.
If you do decide to go to training I highly recommend being very cautious, if you feel shoulder pain on any given movement immediately stop doing that movement.
It would most likely be best to just do body-position kicking for a few days until the pain passes and your shoulder has healed itself.
In the case that you are experiencing severe or even chronic shoulder pain, it would most definitely be best to seek medical advice immediately.
Start by first going to a local sports doctor for an assessment of your shoulder. The doctor will then be able to make recommendations to what would be best to do next.
You can also consider going in for a therapy session at either a stretch therapist, physical therapist, or acupuncturist.
Now that you have a rough idea regarding what you should do next, we can look at some of the treatments in a more in-depth manner-
Treatments for swimmer’s shoulder
In the first 24-48 hours after injuring your shoulder, your main focus should be to decrease inflammation as much as possible.
Rest is one of the best swimmer’s shoulder treatments. So, one of the first things you want to do once you start to feel pain in your shoulder is to immediately stop and begin to rest that shoulder.
This could mean not swimming and doing dry-land whatsoever for 24-48 hours or more depending on the severity.
This could also mean simply only resting that specific shoulder. So if you are still able to swim, simply avoid anything that puts a strain on your shoulder and causes pain.
You will probably need to decrease the total distance you swim for a few days, whilst avoiding intense strokes like butterfly. Don’t resume your normal training until your shoulder feels 100% fine and pain-free again.
Applying ice to your shoulder
Applying ice to your shoulder is a basic yet effective swimmer’s shoulder treatment method.
Ice can help to decrease the inflammation in your shoulder. The basic guideline is to apply ice for 20 minutes, then remove the ice for 20 minutes and reapply it again for 20 minutes. Repeat this a few times for maximum benefit.
Use anti-inflammatory medications
Anti-inflammatory medications are one of the easiest ways to decrease the inflammation in your shoulder.
Using anti-inflammatory medication is a great swimmer’s shoulder treatment method that you can use to avoid serious injury. (Check out this anti-inflammatory gel on Amazon HERE.)
You can use normal medications or even some anti-inflammatory gels that you apply to your shoulder.
Use for a few days after the injury has occurred.
Stretch your shoulder
Stretching may help to speed up the healing process and reduce pain. However, it is important to note that over-stretching can actually worsen the injury.
Only stretch lightly a few times per day to reduce the tightness in the surrounding muscle tissue. That being said, stretching is still one of the best swimmer’s shoulder treatment methods in my opinion.
Here are 2 awesome stretches for your shoulders-
1.) Arm Circles
Arm circles are a popular, dynamic shoulder stretch.
You simply have to stand somewhere, where there is enough space for you to make a full rotation with your arms, whilst keeping them straight.
To perform the stretch simply make big, circular rotations with your arm while keeping it decently straight. Focus on maintaining good posture whilst performing this movement.
2.) Foam roller thoracic spine extension
The thoracic spine extension will help to stretch out the chest and back. In many cases, a tight chest or back can also be linked to tight shoulders. (Need a foam roller? Pick up your foam roller HERE)
Start by putting the foam roller under your upper back. Make sure to keep your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. After that place, your hands behind your head and pull your elbows as close together as you can get them.
Then allow your head to fall back towards the floor and try to wrap yourself around the foam roller, ultimately extending the thoracic spine over the foam roller.
Finally, slowly roll up and down the vertebrae pausing on any painful parts.
When doing this stretch do not roll the neck or lower back, focus only on the thoracic spine.
Do rehabilitation exercises that strengthen your rotator cuffs
Another treatment for swimmer’s shoulder is to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles in your shoulder joint. By strengthening these muscles you are less prone to injury, here are a few exercises to help strengthen your rotator cuff muscles.
I recommend this swimmer’s shoulder treatment method, but make sure not to overdo it or use really strong resistance bands.
The external rotation activates the deep external rotation muscles of the shoulder joint.
To do it start by placing a resistance band around a secured point just above waist height. Then grab it with the hand furthest away from the band. (the outside hand). Keep your elbow in a straight line by your side.
Afterward, start by moving your hand away from your body in a straight line. Do this by squeezing your shoulder blade towards the middle of your upper back.
Make sure to perform a controlled, slow movement the entire time. Do 10-15 reps each side, for a set or two.
Shoulder abductions are meant to strengthen the supraspinatus muscle and also initiate a healing response in the supraspinatus tendon of your shoulder.
Start by standing on a resistance band with one of your feet. Make sure to keep your elbow in a straight and rigid position the entire movement. Then lift the resistance band up to your shoulder level in a controlled manner and hold it there for 1-2 seconds.
Then lower the band, once again with a controlled, slow movement. Do this for both arms for 15-20 reps.
The scapular retraction will help improve your posture and the overall health of your shoulder muscles.
To perform this movement start by horizontally looping your resistance band over something solid almost inline or slightly above shoulder level. Hold the two ends at arm’s length.
Then while keeping your shoulders down, squeeze your shoulder blades back and together. Hold it there for a few seconds, relax and repeat the movement for 10-15 reps.
Modify or change the way you swim
Modifying your swim training includes making many tiny adjustments over a period of time until your shoulder is either healed or to prevent injuring your shoulder again.
This is a basic yet effective swimmer’s shoulder treatment method.
If you swim with bad technique it could be a possible cause for swimmer’s shoulder. Therefore, you should focus on improving your technique.
If you use a lot of paddles in training it may be time to reduce that slightly, since paddles have shown to aggravate shoulder pain.
Your hand placement when entering the water may be slightly off and this could be a possible cause for shoulder pain.
There are many variables and things to look at when it comes to swimming technique and modifying the way you train and swim.
I recommend you to ask your coach to check up your technique and make sure everything is in place. Sometimes it is only a matter of your shoulders getting overworked.
Get a professional to work on your shoulder
My final swimmer’s shoulder treatment method would be to get a professional to do some work on your shoulder.
I highly recommend this in the case that your shoulder pain is severe or has lasted for more than a week. If so it might be time to get a professional to work on your shoulder and reduce the pain.
There are many good treatments available today. Consider making an appointment at your local stretch therapist, physical therapist, or acupuncturist.
They can give you more specific advice on what to do next, including more stretches and exercises, they can also help to relieve the pain with deep tissue massages or stretches.
Also, read- 10 Best strength exercises for swimmers
So, there you have it 7 awesome tips on how to treat swimmer’s shoulder. I highly recommend you to jump into action as soon as possible to avoid getting injured any further.
Apply these methods for a few days after you have been injured. If it doesn’t go away within a week- go see a professional.
It is also important to note that doing some of the given stretches and exercises can be a good way to prevent this injury from happening again in the future.
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- 8 Best swimming goggles for laps– Check out this article to find out what are the 8 best swimming goggles for laps, then once your shoulder injury is fixed you can jump in the pool wearing a brand new pair of awesome swimming goggles.
- How to easily create a meal plan for swimmers– Nutrition is one of the most important aspects for performing well in the water. In this article, you will receive step by step instructions on how to create your own meal plan.
- 5 Best tech suits for backstroke swimmers– Backstroke might not be the most shoulder-friendly stroke out there, but in this article, I analyze the 5 best tech suits for backstroke swimmers, make sure to check it out if you are a backstroke swimmer.
Sources in this article-
- Swimmers shoulder signs, symptoms, stretches, and treatment
- Swimmer’s shoulder: what causes it, and three exercises to treat it