By Paul E. Caldwell, MD
Swimming is a tremendously beneficial activity for those who take part in the exercise, both competitively and recreationally. While most sports injuries are caused from contact with another athlete, in swimming, injuries are usually associated with overuse. This can sometimes mean swimmers ignore their pain, trying to push through, many times because of the competitive nature of the sport. However, swimmers are at risk for potentially serious injuries and pain should not be ignored, as this will only continue the issue of overuse.
Here are some of the common questions surrounding injuries caused by swimming.
What joints should I be most concerned about?
The main body parts to be concerned about while swimming are the shoulders. This is because all four strokes in the sport (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly) require heavy use of those joints, especially the butterfly stroke.
Approximately 95% of all swimming injuries that we see are related to the shoulder. These injuries typically involve some manner of shoulder instability or overuse, often where the shoulder is too loose and can cause rotator cuff problems.
Swimmers may also incur knee problems (most often found in those who swim breaststroke).
What are some common symptoms that might alarm someone about a larger problem?
Symptoms of swimming injuries in the shoulder include varying degrees of pain that can often be accompanied by clicking/popping sounds. Because of the structural makeup of the shoulder, and specifically the rotator cuff, there are various places swimmers can feel pain. It’s also possible for the pain to begin radiating down the arm, but it’s not typical for the pain to reach past the elbow.
What could that larger problem be?
Pain caused by swimming injuries may indicate a number of different underlying problems, including rotator cuff overuse, bursitis, tendonitis, and even tears.
In all of these injuries, however, a person’s symptoms tend to present in very much the same manner. This is why swimming injuries are often so difficult to diagnose and treat.
What would be your recommendations for different types of pains?
A person may try a number of different treatments in order to alleviate themselves of pain caused by swimming injuries, including but not limited to: resting, NSAIDs, icing, heat, and certain stretches. Of course, going to the doctor is always an option as well.
Resting should be first on the list immediately after pain presents itself. A home exercise program consisting of stretching and strengthening moves (and anti-inflammatories) is another good option to start off with. If after several days of rest and strengthening stretches out of the water swimmers notice no relief, it’s advised to make an appointment in order to discuss the next steps.
What additional treatments/tests will a doctor’s office provide?
A person who is experiencing pain as a result of a swimming injury may receive a variety of benefits from an orthopedic appointment. There are simple shoulder function tests that can be performed in-office as well as X-rays, injections, and/or physical therapy, depending on the severity of the situation.
If you have specific questions related to what you believe may be a swimming-related injury, I encourage you to schedule an appointment.