Swimming is heralded as a low-impact sport because it doesn’t subject joints to the strains associated with other cardio-centric activities, such as running. While the pool can save your joints, you should still look out for some common injuries that afflict swimmers. With some intelligent prevention, you’ll be racking up the laps for years to come!
Shouldering the burden
While your knees will appreciate the decreased pressure of an aquatic workout, your shoulders will feel the burn. The constant shoulder rotation required by many swimming strokes can present a difficult adjustment for many athletes, and result in pain known as “swimmer’s shoulder.” The condition can alter your posture, cause pain, and manifest itself as a decrease in muscle control. Because the shoulder is able to move in so many directions, it is one of the body’s least stable joints. To protect it, swimmers should embark on a program that combines stretching, strength training and massage.
When evaluating exercises to strengthen your shoulder, look for movements that will work your rotator cuff, upper back muscles and core. The core muscles of the abdominal and lower back may seem divorced from shoulder function, but stability there will improve your overall posture and help to control your upper body. When completing any strengthening exercise, it is important to avoid imbalances that result from overworking a single muscle group while excluding others. Your stretches should address the same muscle groups, and you should complete your stretches as part of your strength training to prevent injury.
Massage as part of recovery
Massage can ease muscle soreness and improve range of motion, both of which are valuable to a swimmer who is concerned about performance and possible injury. Massage is also valuable because it relaxes the muscle rather than lengthening it. Stretching alone can increase mobility by extending the muscles, but the increased length can result in decreased power. If you combine massage with strength training and stretching, it is possible to retain strength and boost flexibility at the same time. Self-massage for swimmers should focus on the shoulders and upper back, as they are often the hardest hit by this sort of exercise, but the core should be massaged as well.
Stay in form
Because there are a wide variety of swim strokes, the injuries are not limited to the shoulders and are often named after their cause. For instance, swimmers might experience “breast-stroke knee” or “butterfly back.” When you begin to notice pain in a certain area, consider the strokes you do most often and evaluate where they place strain on your body. Because swimming laps is inherently repetitive, sticking to a single stroke every time you get in the water is a recipe for injury. Consider varying your stroke type daily or weekly. It is also worthwhile to speak with a professional about your swimming form. Even if you deviate slightly from the prescribed form, the mistakes will add up as the laps go by. This sort of mistake can lead to premature injuries or easily avoided pain. Nail your technique and you’ll be the fastest person in the pool.