Swimming has a reputation as a low-impact sport, ideal for the elderly and others with mobility issues. However, it is not without risks, especially for elite swimmers. Like all athletes, it is not uncommon for swimmers to over-train: professionals can swim for hours each day, and the constant repetition of the same movements can put stress on the joints, causing injuries which can lead to time away from the sport.
Common Swimming Injuries
The risk of specific injuries depends partially on which stroke is used most often - breaststrokers will tend towards different issues than backstrokers, for example. The most common swimming injuries occur in the shoulders, knees, hips, and back, shoulder being the most prevalent. However, swimmers who use the dolphin kick often tend towards lower back problems, while breaststroke can cause knee and hip problems.
The following injuries are often experienced by swimmers:
- Rotator cuff impingement occurs when the shoulder blade rubs against the rotator cuff while the arm is lifted.
- Biceps tendinitis develops when the biceps tendon becomes inflamed.
- Shoulder instability happens when the ball is not fully secure in the socket.
- Breaststrokers' knee develops as the tendons and ligaments of the knee are overused or misused.
- Hip joint inflammation is another common issue among breaststrokers.
- Lumbar disc problems often occur among swimmers who use the butterfly stroke.
- Spondylolisis occurs at the junction between the pelvis and spine, and is caused by the dolphin kick.
Causes of Swimming Injury
Shoulder problems are so common in swimming because the shoulder joint pays for having a wide range of motion by being relatively less secure. As a ball-in-socket joint, it only articulates with the torso at one point, the shoulder blade, which in turn only connects to the clavicle at one point. The clavicle articulates with the breastbone, anchoring the structures of the arm and shoulder. This means that the shoulder is mainly held in place by tendons and ligaments, which can become weak and/or inflamed with repeated use during swimming. Few other sports put this kind of repetitive stress on the shoulder joint.
While some joints are more prone to injury than others, injury is still largely preventable. The most common causes of injury are simple, and common to all sports: over-training and poor form. In fact, the two are linked - as your muscles become fatigued over hours of training, exhaustion is usually accompanied by a drop in form. When the body is not working in proper alignment, additional stress is placed on the ligaments and tendons of the joints. While the body can usually accommodate this stress in the short term, repeated thousands of times, injury will result.
Treating and Preventing Swimming Injuries
Whether you are recovering from an injury or trying to prevent a new injury from developing, the following tips are key for safe training:
- Be conscientious about using good stroke technique, even if you are fatigued. The majority of injuries are caused by improper form.
- Communicate with your coach or trainer about pain, fatigue, and technique.
- If a specific stroke is causing injury, use it as little as possible until the problem resolves.
- Cross-train, especially if you are injured.
- Take time away from the sport if needed.
- Seek chiropractic treatment sooner rather than later.
While some discomfort during training is normal, if pain is persistent, it needs to be attended to. Although athletes tend to be reluctant to seek treatment, the fact is that the sooner an issue is treated, the less severe it becomes - meaning that time away is minimized.
Even swimmers who have not yet developed an injury can benefit from chiropractic treatment; a chiropractor can assess which body parts are put under the most strain, evaluate posture, and make recommendations regarding balance, posture, movement, diet, and strength. Furthermore, your chiropractor can help catch injuries as soon as they occur, and place you on a chiropractic treatment regimen immediately.
Once you have been injured, chiropractic treatment does not just include adjustments, although that is an important step. Your chiropractor will help you determine a full course of treatment. Southeast Chiropractic: The Motion Centers offer a wide range of services for injured swimmers which allow them to best suit your treatment and see the best possible prognosis. Other discussions to have with your chiropractor include how much time off is needed, what type of physical therapy is ideal, and how to stretch. As you re-enter the sport, the team at Southeast Chiropractic will provide a course of action for reduction of incidence of future injuries.
If you are suffering from a swimming injury or would like to have an assessment of your biomechanics performed by one of our expert chiropractors, click here to schedule an assessment. For swimmers interested in an alternative and homeopathic pain remedy, acupuncture is also available at Southeast Chiropractic, and we have a whitepaper available for download below. It's free to download and your personal information will always be kept confidential, just click below and request!