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Common Swimming Injuries 

Musculoskeletal injuries are common in competitive swimmers due to the repetitive nature and practice required for swimming. The majority of injuries are due to overuse, as competitive swimmers can practice and compete year-round. Shoulder injuries are the most prevalent sources of pain in swimmers. However, knee and back pain are also common.  

Shoulder pain 

Most shoulder pain in swimming athletes is caused by muscle fatigue and upper body strength imbalances due to overuse. These athletes also move their shoulders through large ranges of motion, so swimmers normally demonstrate increased flexibility or joint laxity of the shoulder. When a swimmer starts to have shoulder pain that is associated with muscle fatigue or strength imbalances, repeatedly moving through this large range of motion will cause increased pain. Common shoulder injuries include: 

  • “Swimmer’s Shoulder” – This is a broad term for pain of the front of the shoulder that can include shoulder impingementrotator cuff tendinopathy, and shoulder instability. Common symptoms include pain in the front and/or back of shoulder, pain with repetitive overhead movements that worsens with activity, decreased range of motion and strength. 
  • Labral Tears – pain with overhead motions, popping/clicking, shoulder weakness, feeling of instability 

Knee Pain  

Knee pain is most common in swimming athletes that specialize in breaststroke compared to other swimming strokes due to its unique kick style. Like most injuries in swimming, overuse is the most common cause for knee pain in swimmers. Common knee injuries in swimming are:  

  • MCL sprain – pain on the inside of the knee, swelling, decreased range of motion, feeling of instability  
  • Bursitis/Tendonitis – pain and tenderness of kneecap or inside of the knee, swelling, pain with squatting and kicking  

Back Pain 

In order to attain a streamlined position for swimming, all strokes require hyperextension of the lower back. Butterfly, breaststroke, and excessive use of a kickboard during training can put more stress on the lower back compared to freestyle and backstroke. The repetitive nature of swimming and practicing all strokes can stress the facet joints of the spine. Swimmers with tight hip flexors, poor core activation, and weakness of the hip musculature can be more prone to back pain. Muscle strains and ligament sprains can also occur, but typically have a more sudden onset.  

Treatment of Common Swimming Injuries:  

Treatment for most of the common injuries sustained by a swimming athlete typically includes a strengthening program for the upper body and core to address any muscular weakness or imbalance that is preventing an athlete from swimming at their best. Stretching and exercises to care for soft tissue that may be tight will also be beneficial in decreasing pain. A physical therapist will provide a comprehensive program to address the needs of each individual athlete to decrease pain and improve performance.