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Nine golden rules for swimming injury prevention

BC physiotherapists are the most physically active healthcare professionals in Canada and the ones physicians recommend most.

Swimming is awesome. As a triathlete, I do my fair share of strokes. As it happens, this weekend I’m at IRONMAN 70.3 Canada in Whistler with 3000 athletes and tomorrow I will swim 1.9 km.

Compared to other sports, swimming has a relatively low risk of injury, and it’s also a reasonably accessible exercise.1

However, the most common body part injured while swimming is the shoulder. Shoulder pain can be caused by muscle overuse, incorrect technique or swimming only one stroke during every workout. These factors can lead to shoulder discomfort and injury, most commonly rotator cuff tendinitis.2

To avoid injury, whether swimmer’s shoulder or breaststroker’s knee, here’s a few tips for you!

1. Give your body time to adapt and recover

The human body will recover and grow. Just make sure the stress is not greater than the body’s capacity to adapt. Overuse injuries are caused by overloading of the body’s anatomical structures, like the rotator cuff. So don’t overdue your swimming and make sure you’re giving yourself time to rest and recover.

2. Be mindful of body rotation

Never swim with a flat body as this limits the rotation of the shoulder along the axis of the spine. Develop a symmetrical way to rotate your body for an efficient breathing pattern and this will greatly reduce the risk of shoulder injuries. Stay tuned for more Swim Injury Tips from Arbutus Physiotherapy to ensure you have adequate shoulder strength and mobility to allow proper body mechanics while swimming.

3. Enter the water with a flat hand

A hand directed outwards when entering the water leads to unhealthy internal rotation. This is one of the most common causes of acute pain in the shoulder as it overuses the muscles. It is best to enter the water with a flat hand, fingertips first.

4. Maintain good posture

The saying shoulders back, chest forward applies both in and out of the water. Hunched or rounded shoulders can lead to shoulder injuries and cross-overs in your stroke. Strengthening the muscles at the back of the shoulder and stretching those at the front will help prevent injury, and help you to swim faster.

5. Incorporate bilateral breathing into your swim workout

Breathing only on one side will develop the muscles on that side more than the other. This can eventually lead to shoulder problems. By breathing on both sides with every workout you can prevent this from happening.

6. Be safe

This deserves repeating, especially on these beautiful summer island days: when swimming outdoors, never dive head first into water unless the depth is known. And, when swimming in lakes or oceans be aware of any natural hazards such as tides and rapids, and avoid swimming alone.

7. Nutrition, positive attitude and balance

The nutrition we consume is a crucial part of a training regimen. Quality and variety, and balance, are an important part of an athlete’s diet. But equally so for our attitude and healthy habits. The tension we hold in our bodies and our ability to rest deeply and train hard, all flow from our mental health. So let’s take care of ourselves!

8. Warm up, strengthening and stretches

Whether it’s knee pain and inflammation or rotator cuff pain, having a thoughtfully designed strength building program can help a lot. Warming up also gives your body time to, literally, increase your body temperature. Physiotherapists can help you choose targeted stretches and strength training for your strokes and body specifics.

9. Surround yourself with the right people and the right team

Good medical and coaching supervision for all athletes, and especially high performance athletes, must be done by qualified, current and understanding professionals. For this reason, a swimmer should avoid accepting final recommendations from a professional that is not a swimmer themselves or who doesn’t work as part of a sport-oriented medical team.

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