August 3rd, 2012

Health N' Sports: Swimming Injuries

Staff Report

Health N' Sports: Swimming Injuries
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Louisville Orthopaedic Clinic shares insight on condition

As a part of the Louisville Orthopaedic Clinic, the Sports Rehab Team physical therapists are knowledgeable and trained in the latest advancements and techniques available in sports rehabilitation. 


On a weekly basis, the Health N’ Sports Update will give information on prevention, recovery, and include special offers, as well as general health tips that would be beneficial to all. If there is a specific topic you’d like to know or hear more about, email future suggestions to 

The 2012 Olympics are in full swing and it’s easy to get inspired by the number of talented swimmers on Team USA.  Reaching such an elite level requires an extreme amount of training- in fact some Olympic swimmers will put in more than five miles a day.  This amount of stress on the joints, tendons, and ligaments can result in a variety of overuse injuries.

The most common swimming injury involves the shoulder joint.  Shoulder or rotator cuff impingement is common in swimming and other overhead sports due to pressure on the tendon by a part of the scapula called the acromion.  Shoulder instability is a common ailment in swimmers because of the extreme flexibility that is required to perform fast and efficient strokes.  In this situation the structures surrounding the shoulder joint do not maintain the ball within the socket, which can cause pain, popping, and inflammation.  Rotator cuff and scapular muscle strengthening are very important to a comprehensive training plan for competitive swimmers.  

Surprisingly, because swimming is a low impact exercise, knee injuries are near  the top of the list of injuries.  This is mainly due to the breaststroke, as the knee tends to externally rotate which stresses the medial structures such as the MCL, or medial collateral ligament.  This same external rotation can cause pain in the hip tendons and ligaments as well.  Proper instruction on correct form as well as knee and hip strengthening and stability exercises can help treat and prevent these issues.

High level swimming can also result in back pain, especially in the butterfly stroke.  This stroke involves the dolphin kick, which can cause excess stress on the vertebral joints as well as the discs, which provide the cushion between each joint.  Again, proper form is crucial to avoiding injury in this case, and a good core-strengthening program is also beneficial.

In general, overuse injuries are best treated acutely with rest and anti-inflammatory techniques.  A good training program should always include rest days and cross training.  Core strengthening and rotator cuff/scapular strengthening should always be included in a swimmers program, even in the off season.  As always, one should consult a coach, trainer, or physical therapist if an injury persists rather than training through it.  Not even Olympic athletes can do it all without a little help!

Submitted by: Erin Fidler, MPT

Louisville Orthopaedic Clinic

Main Office: 502-897-1794

Physical Therapy: 502-897-1790


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