Many shoulder injuries in competitive swimming are preventable with proper technique, training, stretching and strengthening, according to a literature review.
“Swimmer´s shoulder” is a broad non-medical term often used to describe a variety of shoulder injuries that can affect swimmers at all levels.
These injuries include scapular dyskinesis, subacromial impingement, labral damage, os acromiale, suprascapular nerve entrapment, and glenohumeral rotational imbalances.
“Injury prevention is best accomplished by proper training,” explained Dr Elizabeth Matzkin, lead author of the literature review and assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at Harvard Medical School. “Most importantly, swimmers need to stretch, especially the posterior shoulder capsule, and avoid muscle imbalance by strengthening both the rotator cuff and the scapular stabilizer muscle groups.”
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, reporting on the study, said that when a swimmer experiences shoulder pain a thorough physical examination is important to diagnose the source of the pain, and whether there is atrophy in the shoulder or reduced strength in the shoulder joint.
Some of the signs of shoulder injuries in swimmers can include:
- A dropped elbow during the recovery phase of the freestyle stroke;
- Excessive body roll, which may signify shoulder pain; and
- Drooping of the affected shoulder.
Dr Matzkin noted that swimmers must maintain some shoulder looseness to remain competitive. However, about 20% of competitive swimmers have hyperlaxity — the ability of joints to move beyond the normal range of motion — which increases the likelihood of greater shoulder instability and susceptibility to pain.
It´s important for the athlete, coach and clinician to be aware of the possible signs of injury to ensure a proper diagnosis and treatment plan to aid the swimmer in his or her return to competition.
The literature review is published in the August issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.