Swimming is often known as a sport that is “good for your whole body” and “ Great for overall conditioning” but despite all of its beaming qualities, It is not always a pain-free sport. One of the most frequently experienced dysfunctions with swimming is typically in the shoulders.
And often times the shoulder pain or dysfunction isn’t because there is consistent damage occurring to the tissues in the shoulder, but rather that their shoulders were not conditioned properly to begin swimming or swim as intensively as the athlete is. This is a common occurrence because swimming is most often known to be a sport that is very easy on the body, so people don't consider that they might need to condition or prepare their body before they begin.
Medically speaking, shoulder pain is given many different diagnosis names by many different professionals. You’ll hear about shoulder impingement or rotator cuff dysfunction or nerve impingement or bursitis and often be told to just rest your shoulder until the pain goes away.
But the research on how to treat this pain and get you back to swimming (or whatever other sport your shoulder pain is limiting you from doing) actually says quite the opposite. More often than not there is a weakness of a muscle, or group of muscles, somewhere in the shoulder that causes a muscle in balance amongst the other stronger and more stable muscles.
photo: Paul Roache MD
In fact there are 17 different muscles that attach to the shoulder blade alone. And if just one of those muscles is not strong enough to perform it’s designated function, The balance of forces applied to the shoulder blade gets totally out of whack. And when the mechanics of the shoulder blade change, the mechanics of the entire shoulder joint change, and performing a sport that requires upper extremity use on a repetitive basis, with bad joint mechanics will eventually cause small incidences where your body doesn’t move properly and microscopic amounts of damage occur, and those repetitive incidences of tiny bits of damage can eventually add up to a “injury “that causes you some form of shoulder pain.
So how do we avoid or begin to treat this shoulder pain before it becomes a chronic problem? Well, some of the most influential and the largest shoulder muscles, whose strength is most important and best associated with good shoulder mechanics and health according to the research, are the four muscles that make up the rotator cuff!
photo: VERITAS health
As implied by the name of the muscles of the rotator cuff, these muscles allow the shoulder to rotate in and out, and components of those rotational motions play significant roles in the overall mobility of each of the other directions that the shoulder is capable of moving! It is also interesting to note that the shoulder is one of the most mobile joints in the body because of its ball and socket orientation, and with every bit of mobility that it has, functionally it lacks most often in stability. Which is why maintaining proper rotator cuff health and strength is very important to maintaining the capability of pain-free performance with the shoulder!
That being said click the link below and watch the video attached to see the exercises that I prescribe most common to upper extremity athletes who want to condition and/or eliminate pain in the shoulder! If you are interested in speaking to one of our clinicians who specializes in swimming performance and helping swimmers create training programs to help them address their individual weaknesses, please feel free to reach out and schedule a full evaluation. We would love to provide you with an individualized plan to keep you injury free or get you back to the swimming fitness program that you enjoy and love!