Swimmer's shoulder is an inflammatory condition caused by the impingement of soft tissue between two bones that meet in the shoulder. Repetitive overhead arm motion of the freestyle stroke can cause this overuse injury, but there are ways to prevent it.
Strengthening shoulder and upper-back muscles and stretching shoulder, chest and neck muscles will help to prevent a swimming posture that is more susceptible to injury. The muscle imbalance and inflexibility that typically occurs in swimmers contributes greatly to impingement. The following exercises and stretches specifically address these areas.
The external rotators of the rotator cuff muscles play a crucial role in shoulder stability. These muscles are also inherently weak and are often the cause of rotator cuff impingement. By strengthening this group you will have a more stable shoulder joint.
Using a stretch cord or cable, hold your arm so your bicep is parallel to the ground and your elbow is bent at a 90 degree angle. Pull your hand forward until your forearm is parallel with your bicep, making sure not to move your elbow.
You can also do this with a dumbbell, resting your elbow on a bent knee and rotating your forearm up and down at a 90 degree angle.
This exercise promotes stability in the scapular region and prevents muscle imbalance associated with swimming. These muscles promote postural alignment and aid in shoulder stability. In swimmers they often become lengthened.
Lie face down on an exercise ball. Holding a barbell with both hands, raise it until your arms are outstretched in front of you. Remember to keep your back straight.
Building a Neutral Shoulder
This exercise strengthens the rear deltoid and mid-back. Swimmers often have shortened pectorals and front deltoids, causing a shoulder joint that internally rotates. By strengthening the muscles of the back and rear deltoid you maintain a more neutral shoulder.
Leaning face-forward on an incline, hold a dumbbell in each hand and raise them up past your body. Keep your arms straight.
These stretches address tightness and shortening in the shoulder, chest and back that arises from swimming. A tight shoulder capsule will prevent proper reach and form in the water. Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds. You may progressively increase the stretch slightly every 10 seconds (within the 30 seconds).
Swimmer's shoulder may primarily be prevented by using proper freestyle stroke. The hand should enter the water with the tips of the fingers first and the palm facing downward. When the hand enters the water it should not cross the middle of the body. For further stroke instruction, seek the advice of an experienced swimming coach.
Jen Adley earned her BS in Biology and a Masters degree in Physical Therapy. She is a practicing board certified physical therapist for Body Pros Physical Therapy and is coaches athletes for The Sport Factory. She is licensed by USA Triathlon and USA swimming with over 10 years coaching experience. Jen has three times received an honorable mention ranking from USA Triathlon. Visit www.thesportfactory.com to learn more about Jen or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.