Common Swimming Injuries– And How To Prevent Them

Common Swimming Injuries– And How To Prevent Them

Looking for a great cardio workout without the added impact on your body? Swimming is an excellent option! 

Serious athletes and weekend warriors alike benefit from the low-impact, cardio-blessing, swim workout. Plus, it truly is customizable to your personal needs or goals; make this workout as difficult or as therapeutic as you wish by simply controlling speed, effort, and time. What’s not to love?

Of course, all activities carry some inherent risk. Though swimming is a great option for those who want to take a little pressure off their joints, you’re still not in the clear from overuse injuries– especially if you’ve increased the frequency of your workouts. If you’re incorporating more swimming into your routine, be mindful of these common injuries and take a proactive approach whenever possible. 

Common Injuries From Swimming

The most common injuries from swimming generally occur from repetition or overuse. Our bodies need time to adapt to new stresses and then recover before challenging them with more intensity or load. As you increase the amount of time you spend in the water, you also increase your risk of injuring the areas that you use most frequently– namely, your neck and shoulders. 

Neck Strain

The feeling of a constant crick in your neck is not uncommon for many swimmers, unfortunately. This irritation is likely a neck strain from your motions. If you’re like many swimmers and are spending a good amount of time doing the freestyle stroke, you’re rotating your head to the side for breaths of air. While this is a mainstay of the stroke, where some people run into trouble over time is a slight misuse of form when turning for a breath of air. As you glide along in the water, when you’re ready to take a breath, your whole body should rotate slightly to accommodate that breath. Many people simply turn their heads, keeping their torso rigid and facing downward. As your yardage in the pool accumulates, if you’re not using proper breathing form, this begins to put a significant strain on your neck. 

Rotator Cuff Injuries

Your rotator cuffs are groups of muscles and tendons that rally around your shoulder joint to keep everything secure and operating smoothly. It’s important to keep them in tip-top shape, or you’ll feel it later! 

Rotator cuff injuries vary in severity. Your rotator cuffs can become strained with repetitive overhead activities, and aggravated by the repetitive stress of swimming. If you’re experiencing pain while raising your arm, hearing a clicking sound with overhead motion, or noticing a loss of strength and/or motion within your arm, you may be experiencing rotator cuff tendonitis. This injury is usually treated with rest, ice, and appropriate at-home exercises prescribed by a doctor.

A rotator cuff tear, however, is often the more extreme version of rotator cuff tendonitis. A tear can occur in the rotator cuff over time and with heavy repetitive use, and also during an accident – like a sudden fall. If you’re feeling the pain that shoots down the side of your arm from your shoulder or pain and weakness in your shoulder with overhead activities, you may have a rotator cuff tear. 

Though many rotator cuff tears are treatable with ice, rest, and a regimented rehab exercise routine (similar to tendonitis), it’s incredibly important to seek medical help for an accurate diagnosis, as early treatment is key. A delayed approach to rehab may put your tendon’s ability to heal at risk; the longer a rotator cuff tear goes without treatment, the more it begins to retract, decreasing your chances of a full recovery. In short: stay on top of this injury! Medium tears tend to respond well to appropriate conservative rehab, so be sure to get rolling on a prescribed plan from a professional as soon as you suspect this injury.

Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder impingement is another common injury to arise from consistent swimming workouts. If you’re having difficulty reaching up and behind your back without pain or a feeling of weakness, you may be experiencing shoulder impingement. This happens when the rotator cuff becomes inflamed and subsequently, the swelling inside of the shoulder compresses the tendons. Shoulder impingement often happens around the same time as rotator cuff tendonitis and much like tendonitis can usually be treated with rest, ice, and structured at-home exercises. 

Preventative Care For Swimming Injuries

Of course, the best injury treatment is prevention. Take the time early on to establish healthy habits to best support your newest workout obsession. 

Prioritize Mobility 

You’ll notice as you begin to swim more than you’re spending an increased amount of time in one plane of motion– which is what you need to do to maintain an efficient stroke. When you’re out of the water, don’t neglect the other areas of movement, as basic, they may seem. 

To increase mobility, incorporate some shoulder rolls before your swimming sessions. Follow it up with slow, controlled head rolls– first side-to-side, and then forwards and backward. For good measure, work in 5-10 wall angels as well, either before your session or following it. These movements are gentle in nature but help to relieve some of the normal tightness from a challenging workout, and allow your body to address the areas that may get neglected during the swimming workout itself. Supporting these areas will ultimately make you a more well-rounded athlete, too.

A Step-wise Approach To Duration

If you’re new to swimming, it’s easy to overdo it—  which can be a top culprit of injury in general. As you approach swimming as an ongoing workout, gradually ramp up both the intensity and duration of your sessions. Be realistic with where you’re at: if you’re in the beginning stages of a (hopefully long) relationship with swimming, you won’t be ready for the extended and more advanced workouts of those who have been logging yards in the pool for years. 

If you need more guidance in this area for what may be appropriate for you, try searching online for examples of swimming workouts for different ability levels. If you want a more personalized approach, reach out to a swim coach.

Warm-up And Cool Down

As basic as warming up and cooling down may sound, these are key resources to use in your fight against injury. A slower warm-up allows your body to gently wake up the muscles and ligaments that you’ll use during a session before challenging yourself with more intensity. Alternately, a cool-down helps to flush out some of the lactic acid buildups that can cause stiffness, soreness, and potential injury when not dealt with properly. 

How Chiropractic Keeps Swimmers Healthy

As you look to keep your health on the right track both in and out of the pool, chiropractic care is a great way to support your body through a consistent workout routine. The gentle adjustments of the spine and extremities help to realign your body, increase range of motion, decrease pressure and nerve sensitivity, and allow your system to function properly. Not to mention, if you’re working through an injury, chiropractic care greatly assists in the healing process by decreasing inflammation in your body overall.

Chiropractic is an excellent, conservative care method that can be used as a valuable tool for anyone who enjoys an active lifestyle. Your practitioner can support you through both a general wellness routine, and also treat injury early and effectively by taking a personalized approach to each session. 

Prioritize your health now. Schedule an appointment online or call 256-721-9696. 

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for in-person advice or care from a medical professional.