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Swimming is commonly thought of as an injury-free sport. With a lack of solid surfaces for an athlete to come in contact with, bone breaks, concussions, and sprains are almost non-existent, apart from the occasional collision with a wall or another swimmer. However, aquatic sports often come with joint injuries from overexertion, such as swimmer’s shoulder. Swimmer’s shoulder is one of the most common types of injury a swimmer may have to face as a result of training or competing. A blanket term for a variety of injuries, swimmer’s shoulder is a condition that can impact both the muscular and skeletal system in many different parts of the human body. Some of the basic symptoms are impaired posture, the inability to properly rotate an arm, large amounts of pain around the shoulder when moved, and general weakness in specific muscle groups (Tovin, 2006; Heinlein, 2016). This is often caused by connective tissue such as a tendon rubbing against the shoulder blade either excessively or in an unnatural manner.
With the increase in popularity of swimming comes the increase in both injuries and the need for education. In 2007, over 250,000 swimmers were registered with USA swimming. Participation in the sport has shown a steady increase, especially after Olympic swimming events occur. Over 10% of competitive swimmers have reported prevalent shoulder pain, proving that this issue is widespread among serious swimmers. On top of this, 47% of teenage swimmers and 73% of elite swimmers have reported a history of shoulder pain (McMaster, 1993)
Understanding the ways swimmer’s shoulder is developed are vital to prevention of the injury. There are 4 main causes of swimmer’s shoulder: Overuse, Misuse, Abuse, and Disuse. Overuse is one of the most common causes, it occurs when a swimmer goes beyond their limits and causes too much stress to their bodies. Misuse can be caused by improper posture or by a misuse of training equipment such as hand or foot paddles. Abuse is caused by overexertion, and is often experienced by novice swimmers (Tovin, 2006). Lastly, disuse is often caused by a swimmer taking breaks or not training a specific muscle group. This causes unneeded muscle to atrophy. Some ways to prevent swimmer’s shoulder are to not overexert yourself, keep a fairly consistent training regimen, and to have a professional review your regimen. It is also a good idea to take the time to review how to use any equipment you might need in your training, so injury can be avoided.
There are not many treatment methods of swimmer’s shoulder. While some drugs such as light analgesics or steroids can be prescribed to a patient, they only help to ease the pain. The best and only method of self care is often allowing the afflicted muscle to rest, and not doing any intense physical activities until the pain has noticeably subsided. Sometimes slings can be used to limit motion of the limb and back (Ciullo, 1989).This usually only takes a month or two to correct itself. If pain persists for over six months, a medical professional will commonly refer a patient for physical therapy sessions. If physical therapy proves to be unhelpful, often times an orthopedic surgeon will perform various surgical procedures on the afflicted area. This is fairly uncommon, and injuries requiring a surgical procedure usually only happens after a swimmer continues to use an afflicted muscle group after noticing their symptoms.
I have personally witnessed the effects of swimmer’s shoulder. In March, I developed the injury through overuse. I spent double my normal workout length practicing the butterfly stroke for several consecutive days, and I was left with an unpleasant amount of shoulder pain. This prevented me from practicing many strokes for almost a week, and further use may have likely caused me further damage. I believe knowing how swimmer’s shoulder is caused, how to treat it, and how to prevent it is important for novice and experienced swimmers alike. It can impact anybody of any skill level.
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