Do You Have Swimmer's Shoulder?

Do You Have Swimmer’s Shoulders?

Gigi Benkowski, DPT, ART, CSCS

Edited By: Shiguma Takeuchi

The medical definition of swimmer’s shoulders is an overuse syndrome seen in competitive swimmers when increased range of motion needs to be pushed from water resistance, and is related to possible looseness of joints as well as rotator cuff tendon overuse. This type of shoulder pain can hinder training or progress of training as it can start limiting the range of motion and strength that would be present in good shoulder mechanics.

This symptom is also referred to as shoulder impingement syndrome, subacromial impingement, painful arc syndrome, supraspinatus syndrome, and thrower’s shoulder. This means that the rotator cuff muscle tendons become irritated and inflamed as it passes under the acromion subacromial space, which is the beak-looking hook of the shoulder blade. You can have pain, weakness, and/or loss of movement in the shoulder.

Joe Friel, a triathlete and author of The Triathlete’s Training Bible, states that swimming is all about technique, which is very similar to when physical therapist talks about keeping good form and proper mechanics of your shoulder.

What can you do to improve your shoulder mobility and strength to reduce the effects of shoulder pain related to swimmer’s syndrome? Well, you will want an expert eye, such as an orthopedic sports physical therapist, to evaluate and help with you with manual treatments and appropriate exercises. Your therapist will feel to see how your muscle tissue tensions are, as well determine how well your joint moves and analyze your form on exercises.

There are also some steps that you want to follow while on your path to full recovery. These four steps are used to gauge your ability to return to swimming, or any other sport that requires synonymous shoulder movement. Each step is simple and effective.

  1. You want to look at your overall posture from your head down to your toes.
  2. You want to look at your range of motion or mobility of your shoulders, neck, and upper back. The neck and upper back play a large role in how your shoulder moves.
  3. You want to look at your strength not only at the rotator cuffs, but also scapular stabilizers and core strength. This is because they all affect how actively your shoulder moves, especially when swimming in water and any activities that require shoulder use.
  4. As you recover in rehabilitating your shoulder, you will want someone to check your shoulder mechanics as you swim to check your technique. This does not have to be a physical therapist, but can be anyone who knows the proper shoulder mechanics used in swimming techniques.