A glance at shoulder pain in competitive swimmers
Swimming has been heralded as being the ultimate exercise. Phrases such as "No Impact" or "Stress free to your joints" are commonly used when swimming is discussed as a training regime. This is true most of the time, but that old saying "Too much of a good thing, is Not a good thing" applies to competitive swimmers. Shoulder pain causes Olympic and Senior National swimmers to miss training and events 35% of the time.
Let's put in perspective how much training a competitive swimmer does. During the average 2 hour training session, the swimmer may swim about 6,000-7,000 yards (or 3.5 - 4 miles). Then figure that on average, the swimmer will make somewhere between 1,500 - 4,000 strokes per training session. That would equate to be about 1,000,000 stroke cycles per year (Females could possibly have an additional 660,000 stroke cycles per year because they generally have shorter arm strokes).
Swimming selectively strengthens the anterior chest musculature as well as the internal rotators of the shoulder (such as the latissimus dorsi), leaving the external rotators rather weak in comparison. This muscle imbalance in conjunction with the repetitive microtrauma due to the nature of training will commonly cause shoulder pain.
Perfect form helps decrease the likelihood of injury, however, as fatigue sets in, that ability to maintain perfect form becomes harder and harder. This is why specific training, focused exercises and proper stretching are so very critical and can help decrease shoulder pain.
Stretches performed by many swimmers may actually be causing more harm than good. The front (Anterior Capsule) of the shoulder in swimmers usually has excessive laxity, which is one of the common causes of shoulder pain. If this part of the shoulder is excessively stretched the risk of Shoulder Instability raises drastically. Also specific exercises, especially those associated with shoulder blade (scapular) stability, can help decrease the likelihood of shoulder injuries and pain.
Competitive swimmers are always looking for the edge. Don't let shoulder pain take you out of the match. For more information on shoulder pain in competitive swimming, please contact In Motion Spine and Joint Center at (615) 302-4747.