Swimmers and Their Shoulders

Authors: Jennifer Solar

References: Shoulder1

Our shoulders are developed in a way that we are able to deliver basic arm motions such as hailing a cab. However, when attempting to track down the yellow vehicle, one or two swings of the arm are sufficient enough to achieve the goal. Consider though, the effect on the shoulder if one needed to repeat the hailing gesture repetitiously, as in the case of the arm movement of a competitive swimmer in training.

Swimmers have it good in the sense that the low impact nature of the sport leaves its athletes less prone to injury in general. But while it would be uncommon to suffer shoulder injuries that result from sudden impact such as a bone break, the repetition and overuse of the muscles in the joint may eventually take a toll.

‘Swimmer’s shoulder’ is a loose diagnostic term which describes the pain or injury that may ensue as a result of overusing the muscles or improperly executing a stroke, as reported by the Peak Performance website. The injury occurs in the rotator cuff, which serves to attach the arm to the shoulder through the use of four muscles. When a few of the generally weaker muscles in the rotator cuff are being forced to do extra work than they are typically expected to do, the shoulder becomes unstable and will not work properly. These muscles may therefore cause inflammation and impingement causing pain and sometimes damage. According to the University of Iowa Health Care website, specific injuries to the rotator cuff are bursitis, tendonitis, bony spurs and muscle tears.

One way to prevent the shoulder from becoming unstable and leading to injury is to strengthen the weaker muscles through certain exercises that occur out of water. According to John Pater, who swam for the Miami University NCAA Division I swim team, their practices included high-repetition, low-resistance exercises often with the use of an elastic cord, in order to isolate and strengthen the muscles slowly. In addition to preventative exercises, Pater suggested that swimmers in training should always execute proper strokes and to be sure not to increase workload and intensity too quickly.

Even taking precautionary measures such as specific exercises and proper training technique to prevent shoulder injury, sometimes it is unavoidable. Macaira Rooney, a junior at St. Louis University knows all too well. Macaira had been an active swimmer started at the age of six, but by the time she was seventeen, she had already had two surgeries to repair injuries in her left shoulder. Suffering often from tendonitis and pain in both shoulders, Rooney attributes her injuries to overuse of the muscles in the rotator cuff.

Unfortunately, Rooney’s swimming career ended after high school due to the shoulder injuries, which was a difficult outcome for her to accept. Rooney has instead taken up running on the St. Louis University cross country team and currently studies physical therapy. While her shoulders are now free of injury, Rooney reported that she recently had to have knee surgery due to the running.

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