Swimmers : Common Injuries, Treatment And Prevention Tips


Swimmers tend to suffer from a myriad of injuries. Are you a swimmer who swims leisurely or competitively – or a triathlete that experiences triathlon injuries? If yes, continue to read on.


Style: Men recently interviewed one of our physiotherapists, Chng Chye Tuan, on common musculoskeletal injuries faced by swimmers in July’s issue. Do read on to find out what he has to share.

What Are The Common Problems Competitive/Regular Swimmers Face?

The most common swimming injury is rotator cuff impingement/ tendonitis.

  • The ball joint of the shoulder compresses the tendon against the roof of the socket (acromion) in 2 phases of freestyle – the pull-through and recovery phase.
  • The pull-through phase in the freestyle stroke involves the arm pulling against the resistance of the water. The outstretched arm with internal rotation of the shoulder stresses the tendon and pinched it against the acromion. The pinching can irritate the tendons and give a sudden catching kind of pain.
  • The recovery phase involves a body roll and raising the elbow up and out. This allows the upper limb to recover out of water efficiently. Otherwise, the shoulder will be working harder at an awkward position and to pull the hand out of water.
  • Lastly, repeated pinching will give rise to inflammation and fraying of the soft tissues.

What Are The Usual Causes?

The usual contributing factors mainly overtraining, poor technique, poor core muscles and unilateral breathing.

  • Overtraining – when muscles are fatigued, the stabilising component from the rotator cuff muscles becomes compromised. This increases the chances of the humeral head translating upwards and impinging the rotator cuff tendons. The ball component has to be centralised within the socket of the shoulder. This is to optimise stability and muscle function.
  • Technique – the freestyle and backstroke styles require the swimmer to roll their trunk. This will minimise the drag, and maximise the propulsion force. Too much drag will increase the resistance and as a result, it will tire out the shoulder muscles sooner.
  • Strong core muscles and truck control enable the swimmer to do a body roll along the longitudinal axis. This makes it easier for the shoulder to pull the upper limb out of water.
  • Lastly, unilateral breathing can develop a muscle imbalance leading to improper muscle activation and overuse.

What Kind Of Treatments Do You Recommend?

An assessment of the shoulder girdle, spine and core strength will be performed. Therefore, this is to properly manage a swimmer’s shoulder.

In addition, a key treatment to approach the swimming shoulder is to rehabilitate the rotator cuff muscles and be able to centralise the humerus at different shoulder positions.

Exercises to correct imbalances will be prescribed to specifically target these rotator cuff muscles.

These exercises include strengthening the weak muscles to improve dynamic support and also stretching exercises for the tight muscles pulling the joint out of position.

Therefore, as most competitive swimmers will not be able to cease training completely, kinesiotaping complements the rehabilitation therapy by improving the rotator cuff’s ability to stabilise the shoulder joint via better joint awareness from the corrective.

Are There Preventive Measures That Swimmers Can Take To Minimise Such Problems?

Similarly, regular stretching exercises, core stability training and work on the techniques will help to minimise swimming injuries.

During the early stage of feeling the impingement (catching or pinching) pain, seek help from a sports physician or physiotherapist as soon as possible.