Swimmer's Shoulder: What We Missed in the Last Decade

By far the most common injury in the swim world is swimmer's shoulder. Most providers only think of supraspinatus muscle impingement when they think of swimmer’s shoulder. However, due to the massive amount of rotational shear forces on the rotator cuff, it is rarely one particular muscle responsible for symptoms while swimming. It is the shoulder complex as a whole that needs to be addressed to figure out what the cause of the symptoms are and what needs to be done about it. Unfortunately, not much has been updated on shoulder rehabilitation in terms of swimming. According to a study at the FINA World Championships in 2011, by far the most common injury at the games was the shoulder with approximately 40% of the athletes injured saying shoulder pain significantly affected their performance at the competition.

To find out why shoulder injuries are still prevalent, we have to take a look back at what has happened to training and injury prevention in the last 10 years. While the amount of yards and shoulder rotations per practice have increased, our approach to treating and preventing swimmer’s shoulder has not changed. The focus is still on isolating specific muscles exercises such as banded-external rotation and rows to decrease symptoms. These exercises focus on treating local issues when the issue is the global shoulder complex.

This is why modern research for swimmer’s shoulder emphasizes balanced strength training of the rotator cuff, improvement of core stability, and correction of scapular dysfunction for treatment and prevention. An ideal injury prevention program addresses these needs to prevent issues in training and competition. By treating the shoulder with this method, we prevent cornering ourselves on impingement and instead develop global shoulder health to protect the swimmer.

If you still have shoulder problems and questions regarding your swimmer’s pains, we’re here for you!

Bak K, MD.The Practical Management of Swimmer’s Painful Shoulder: Etiology, Diagnosis, and Treatment. Clin J Spor Med. 2010.

Prien A, et. al. Injury and illness in aquatic sport: how high

is the risk? A comparison of results from three FINA World Championships. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2016.

Wolf et al. Injury Patterns in Division I Collegiate Swimming. The American Journal of Sports Medicine. 2009.


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