It’s Not Just For Swimmers: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of Swimmer’s Shoulder

It’s Not Just For Swimmers: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of Swimmer’s Shoulder

Swimmer’s shoulder is a painful condition most commonly found in competitive swimmers involving the tendons in the shoulder. Sometimes called shoulder impingement, swimmer’s shoulder results from swollen and inflamed tendons that press on the coracoacromial arch, which consists of bones and ligaments in the shoulder.

Swimming requires the upper extremities for movement along with above average flexibility and range of motion in the arms and shoulders. At the same time, water has a greater resistance to movement compared to air, making this movement more strenuous. The action of swimming often has unusual motions, particularly with repetitive overhead arm motions like in the freestyle stroke. This repetitive movement often results in injuries such as swimmer’s shoulder. 

In most cases, conservative treatments that do not involve surgery are used in cases of swimmer’s shoulder to help relieve the pain and reduce inflammation of the tendons. One often overlooked treatment can help get you pain free and back in the pool in no time.

What Causes Swimmer’s Shoulder?

Swimmer’s shoulder could be a result of numerous swimming activities, including:

  • Improper swimming technique
  • Regular, long training hours 
  • Unilateral breathing
  • Overuse of certain training equipment, such as kickboards or hand paddles

Swimmer’s shoulder occurs in three quarters of all swimmers. It is the repeated strain in the shoulder joint, leading to irritated tendons and muscle tissues. Tiny tears can develop in the tissue, leading to inflammation and scar tissue. This minor damage makes the joint less easy to move, possibly resulting in a labral tear, rotator cuff tear, or similar issues.  

Do You Have to Be a Swimmer to Get Swimmer’s Shoulder? 

While swimmer’s shoulder is common in swimmers due to the motion of their upper extremities during the act of swimming, it can also affect other individuals in a variety of fields and activities. Anyone who uses their shoulders to regularly lift or reach above their head can get swimmer’s shoulder, including volleyball players, tennis players, construction workers, and electricians.

What Are the Symptoms of Swimmer’s Shoulder?

Swimmer’s may notice pain while swimming or after they get out of the pool. The pain may affect daily activities, but is often hard to pinpoint and feels deep within the shoulder. 

Symptoms of swimmer’s shoulder include:

  • Muscle fatigue
  • Reduced flexibility and range of motion
  • Instability of the shoulder
  • Shoulder pain

Swimmers may notice that they are no longer able to complete a particular stroke in the manner that they formerly did. They may be able to continue swimming, but feel pain associated with a particular position or phase of the stroke. 

How Can Swimmer’s Shoulder Be Prevented?

If swimming is an important part of your routine, you don’t want to be set back by an injury such as swimmer’s shoulder. Prevention is key to staying on top of your game. To prevent swimmer’s shoulder, try these six tips:

  1. Use proper stroke mechanics. Ensure that you keep the proper form while swimming so that you can avoid impingement.
  2. Avoid rapidly increasing frequency of training or training distances.
  3. Stretch your shoulder, chest, and neck muscles prior to getting in the water. Tight muscles can lead to a hunched-over posture and possible shoulder impingement.
  4. Strengthen your shoulder during the off-season with exercises aimed at working out your rotator cuff. Gradually work your way into your routine at the beginning of the season. 
  5. Avoid rotator cuff fatigue by using the correct form and mechanics while swimming.
  6. Know the signs and symptoms of swimmer’s shoulder and take immediate action for treating it at the first signs of injury. 

How Is Swimmer’s Shoulder Treated?

In the vast majority of cases, swimmer’s shoulder can be treated without surgery using conservative treatments. Oftentimes, over-the-counter pain relievers, ice, and heat can be used to relieve shoulder pain and help inflamed tendons heal. Other treatments include:

  • Rest:  In most cases, you should stop swimming entirely, if possible, or at the very least, decrease the amount of training you do. Rest is essential in healing and ensuring you don’t reinjure the shoulder. 
  • Ergonomic adjustments: Try reducing the number of times you need to reach up over your head, if possible. Your trainer should be able to help you modify your routine to help you heal. If you swim competitively or reach over your head as a function of your daily work, it may be difficult to make these adjustments.
  • Electrical stimulation: The use of a TENS unit, available at most chiropractic offices, can help soothe pain and stimulate healing.
  • Physical exercise: Stretching and strength training exercises may help you regain strength in your shoulder. It’s important that you work specifically to stabilize your shoulder and do not reinjure the area.

How Can a Chiropractor Help with Swimmer’s Shoulder?

A chiropractor can help soothe the pain of swimmer’s shoulder by manipulating the musculoskeletal system. Rather than just addressing the pain in your shoulder, a chiropractor ensures that your joints, cartilage, bones, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues are all getting the care they need to heal properly. In some cases, chiropractors can suggest treatment for regaining strength in your rotator cuff, such as stretches and exercises. 

Taking pain medication can relieve the pain temporarily, but the injury is still there. A chiropractor can address this pain directly, ensuring that healing takes place. Chiropractic care is non-invasive and a recommended alternative to surgery. 

If you think you have swimmer’s shoulder and are experiencing deep, intense pain in your shoulder, you’ll want to visit your chiropractor for a thorough exam of the area to determine the exact cause of your discomfort. For relief from swimmer’s shoulder, schedule an appointment with us online or call 256-721-9696 today. 

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