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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Slight shoulder pain from swimming... when to seek help?

    I swim most days after work. I don't consider myself a fast (and definitely not competitive) swimmer, thus I didn't anticipate any sports related injuries. However, I have noticed that the past few weeks my right shoulder has been sore. Could it be from swimming? It doesn't hurt TOO bad, but it also hasn't gone away. Should I see a professional?
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  • Kylie Royal

    Exercise Physiologist, Personal Trainer

    Director, Exercise Physiologist & Personal Trainer. Kylie’s determination and passion in striving for ultimate health & success is what has led her to a successful … View Profile

    Hi, great that you have seeked advice before it gets too bad.
    Frequently people are told to swim to avoid other injury or to maintain fitness when unable to perform weight bearing exercise. What you're not typically told is that swimming is actually very technical and if not performed correctly can result in a number of shoulder issues, of varying degrees.
    You are swimming frequently and thats great and the pace certainly isn't an issue. What I would suggest is that you source out stroke correction lessons to have your technique assessed. You may only need a couple of lessons to iron out any issues, but I assure you they will be well worth it. Shoulder injuries are definitely not fun - to have or to rehab, but if you're swimming technique is good then your shoulders will be get stronger.
    If the tightness and pain does persist it would also be worth getting a rememdial massage to loosen them off, and incorporating regular shoulder stretching and using a spikey ball to self massage and manage the tightness.
    Hope this helps, Kylie

  • Neil Synnott

    Exercise Physiologist, Physiotherapist

    I am qualified as a PHYSIOTHERAPIST and ACCREDITED EXERCISE PHYSIOLOGIST.I primarily use the McKENZIE METHOD for assessment and management of musculoskeletal pain disorders. The McKENZIE … View Profile

    Hi… it's fantastic that you are regularly active… swimming regularly at your own pace is great for your health!

    I agree with Kylie, swimming can be quite technical (and repetitive). Thus if your stroke has a few minor technical errors, the more you complete the stroke, especially when you start to become tired, the errors are liekly to be amplified and put more strain on your shoulder. Thus seeking out a professional swim coach for a few lessons is time and money well invested.

    With your technique, are you a single side or both side breather? If one sided, which side do you breath on? This question may be relevant as your may have some underlying neck or upper back stiffness that is restricting your shoulder movement.

    What type of work do you do? Like most people, regardless of type of work, we tend to sit for long periods during the day. If so, this is likely to stiffen up your upper back and neck. There are a couple of simple stretches that help to alleviate this.

    To suggest exercises, I would need some more information. Hope this helps!

    Regards, Neil

  • 1

    Agree

    I am a specialist sports physiotherapist with a sub-speciality in adolescents in sport (as awarded bu the Australian College of Physiotherapists in 2007). In addition … View Profile

    Hey there.  Yes, your shoulder pain could be from swimming or a could be from something else you have done (like work, gardening etc) and is aggravated by swimming, or a bit of both.  Whilst it sounds like you might have fairly good technique, you technique can alter overtime, especially if you are in pain or something has become tight and so forth, so it is always good to check your swimming techinque regularly with a good swim coach.  In saying that though, technique is not the only reason you might get shoulder pain when you swim, and shoulder pain can also be referred from you neck and/or upper back, stiffness in your neck or upper back can also cause your to load your shoulder more than you should, similarly, tightness in certain ares of your shoulder joint (eg posterior capsule) and/or weakness in other areas (shoulder blade muscles or rotator cuff muscles) and so forth.  It is therefore important that you have a detailed assessment by a Sports Physiotherapy to diagnosis your injury and to look at contributing factors and then to treat/rehab you - a good sports physiotherapist should also have at least a basic understand of swimming technique and therefore be able to link other findings such as neck tighness to your technique and also chat to your coach about your diagnosis and management.  Physical activity is very important for overall general health so it is very important to maintian your ability to continue being physically active and seeking help early will help you with this.

  • Brad McGregor

    Exercise Physiologist

    Brad is an exercise physiologist specialising in musculoskeletal rehabilitation. Clients include Workcover Qld, Commonwealth Rehabilitation Services and other private insurers. He has worked with athletes … View Profile

    I concur with all of the other experts who have posted here that swimming is a terrific mode of exercise that will yield many health & fitness benefits.

    In terms of identifying the causative mechanism I would advise changing 1 thing at a time to see if that brings symptom relief. Often people change a number of things simultaneously & as a result they don't really know which intervention worked!

    Issues that have already been mentioned such as capdular tightness & rotator cuff weakness should certainly be investigated. Another area to have checked is impingement. This is a very common condition (also referred to as ‘swimmers shoulder’) where the supraspinatis tendon is impinged against the acromion process when abducting the shoulder (ie lifting it sideways away from the body). A qualified physiotherapist will certainly be able to perform a number of tests to provide you with a definite diagnosis. He/she will then be able to develop a treatment plan that may involve an exercise physiologist once the acute management has been completed.

    Good luck!

  • 1

    Agree

    Dr Marcus Chia

    Orthopaedic Surgeon

    Dr Marcus Chia is an Orthopaedic Surgeon in Sydney, Australia. As a Fellowship trained Shoulder and Elbow surgeon, he employs the most current arthroscopic and … View Profile

    I would suggest you seek the opinion of an appropriate sports physiotherapist with experience treating swimmers. Perhaps you have changed your stroke recently or increased the intensity or frequency of your training. Physiotherapy will work on stroke correction, stretches and scapular stabilisation exercises.

    Should your shoulder symptoms continue despite adequate physiotherapy, I would suggest review by an Orthopaedic surgeon.

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