With the Rottnest Channel Swim fast approaching, many of you will be stuck into your training blocks in order to complete the gruelling 19.7 kilometre open swim. However, with an increase in training, comes an increased risk of an overuse injury. As swimming involves many stroke repetitions and repetitive propulsive force to be generated by the upper extremity, the shoulder is especially vulnerable to injury. A study found that out of 80 young elite swimmers, 91% had painful shoulders and 84% had clinical signs of impingement.
With the biomechanics of freestyle, nearly 90% of the forward propulsive power comes from the upper extremities, explaining the cause of shoulder pain and injuries. The swimmer’s shoulder is at increased risk when the muscles of the proximal segments of the kinetic chain fatigue. Another primary cause of shoulder injury amongst swimmers is excessive glenohumeral joint laxity. As the glenoid is relatively shallow, the labral, ligamentous and muscular structures are under increased demand to keep the shoulder joint stabilised. Repetitive stress on these stabilising structures can lead to capsular laxity in which is correlated with shoulder pain. Other adaptations may include muscular imbalance within the shoulders and trunk. It is common with swimmers that shoulder internal rotators and chest muscles become short and tight and the shoulder external rotators and retractors become elongated and weak.
The good news is we can manage these adaptations with a prescribed exercise program either as a way of preventing injury or managing any current impingement or shoulder pain. Exercise rehabilitation is focused on targeting any potential muscular imbalance, quite commonly looking at exercises that will strengthen the shoulder retractors and external rotators and stretching the shoulder internal rotations and chest muscles. Trunk and neck stretching may also be applicable as the neck is constantly between lateral flexion and rotation, increasing compressive load through these structures.
Another way of managing any potential injury from swimming is by looking at and managing load. Gradual overload can be monitored through distance swam, number of sessions completed each week or around duration of sessions. Any one of these variables can be modified in order to progress exercise at a safe rate and avoid overuse. A study has found that improper periodisation (increased swim time and weekly distance) correlated significantly with supraspinatus tendinopathy, as evidenced by tendon thickening.
Our team here at Absolute Balance is competing in this year’s Rottnest Channel swim and would be more than happy to share any tips or tricks about how we are preparing for the event. We are also happy to assist if you were wanting an assessment regarding training periodisation or a tailored exercise programme to help you prevent or manage any current shoulder or neck related injuries. Contact us today!
Tayla O’Halloran (Bsc. Exercise Physiology)
Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) (ESSAM)
Heinlein, S. A., & Cosgarea, A. J. (2010, November). Biomechanical Considerations in the Competitive Swimmer’s Shoulder. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3438875/