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Physiotherapy for Swimming Injuries: Treat, Reform, Recover

By Matthew Craig, Principal Physiotherapist & Founder at bounceREHAB

Swimming is one of the favourite sports of children and adults, as a majority we are water

lovers in Australia. Swimming is considered one of the most popular and leading recreational activities and careers in Australia. Based on the 2018 press release, a special poll found that over six million out of the total population of Australia indulge regularly in swimming. The survey also revealed an estimated 3.45 million women and 2.58 million men participated in regular swimming.

It is interesting to note that the Australian government provides funds for swimming and water safety education. Thus, more and more Aussies join in different swimming lessons and clubs.

Most Common Body Parts That Are Susceptible To Swimming Injuries

1. Swimmer’s Shoulders

The arm and shoulders are the most vital body parts for a swimmer. The shoulder, specifically, is endlessly used in swimming strokes like a butterfly stroke, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle. When the swimmer does not have proper shoulder regulation and motion, the higher the risk for a strain that can damage muscles. Thus, proper guidance, therapy, rehabilitation and practice are necessary.

Swimmer’s shoulder is the most common injury seen – almost 90% of all swimming injuries!

Shoulder injuries are as follows:

  • Bursitis – Bursitis is an inflammation or irritation of the bursa sac. This is commonly experienced in the shoulder, elbow, and hip.

  • Rotator cuff impingement – This injury affects the tendons between the top shoulder and arm bone. This damage causes shoulder pain that disabled the swimmer to move or lift his arms.

  • Bicep’s tendonitis – This injury is the inflammation of the tendon that connects the bicep muscles to the shoulder.

  • Rotator cuff tears – This injury is a rip of tendons and muscles. This damage will destabilize shoulder joints making the swimmer unable to lift and rotate his shoulders.

Initially pain is felt during or immediately after swimming, although as it worsens (athletes swimming through the pain), pain can be felt at rest or during the night. Pain may be poorly localised and deep within the shoulder. A reproducible click or painful catch may indicate a tear within the cartilage of the socket (glenoid labrum). Rest and an appropriate rehabilitation program is essential to ensure a safe and successful return to swimming.

2. Swimmer’s Neck

The neck plays a significant role in the swimmer’s proper breathing. In breaststroke, for example, you must keep your head above the water that might lead to neck strain. Another is during the freestyle stroke that involves rotating the neck to execute proper breathing and technique. This injury makes the neck a susceptible body part for injury.

3. Swimmer’s Knee

A swimmer’s knee is also known as “breaststroke knee” because it commonly affects breaststroke swimmers. This injury has an impact on the medial ligaments in the knee. This is due to the swimmer’s propulsive kicks that speed up the stroke. Some of its symptoms are swelling knees, pain, and inflammation.

This injury is able to be prevented with a proper warm-up and stretching program, as well as strengthening exercises for your thigh muscles (quadriceps and hamstrings). Rest is important if this injury has developed along with icing the inside of your knee for 15-20 minutes approximately 4 times throughout the day, especially after exercise. Speak with your physiotherapist regarding a rehabilitation program which is suitable for you.

How does Physiotherapy work for Injured Swimmers?

Injuries may cause mild to severe discomfort to swimmers. Thus, physiotherapy accompanies your treatments and medication to accelerate your recovery. It brings comfort through the following:

1. Range of Motion (ROM) Exercise – ROM exercise improves flexibility and maintains patient movement through motion exercise. ROM helps the swimmer move affected body parts while preventing further damage.

2. Soft Tissue Mobilization – This is known as therapeutic massage. It helps reduce swelling and relax muscles. Along with this, tissue massage also helps improve blood circulation.

3. Kinesio Taping – This helps swimmers move shoulders or knees with injury with ease through the help of Kinesio tape. It helps stabilize the affected muscles and joints.

4. Cryotherapy and Heat Therapy – These methods are effective for stiff muscles. Swimmers commonly experience muscle tightness on their neck, shoulder, and legs. Thus, hot packs and cryotherapy offer some relief.

4. Pilates Strength & Conditioning – The Pilates method is effective for improving lumbopelvic, scapulothoracic and overall strength, endurance and flexibility required for withstanding the repetition of swimming. Swimmers often use pilates and physio rehab classes as a great way to not only treat injuries, but to prevent injuries that cause pain while swimming.

Swimming lessons plus physiotherapy are the optimal match to become a safe and strong swimmer. Thus, more and more swimmers are making physio visits regularly. Not only to treat them but also to improve themselves for a better dive and stroke.

Please get to know more about physiotherapy with us here at bounceREHAB. We offer a range of services from physiotherapy, massage therapy, pilates and exercise rehab to bring you comfort and enhance your swimming performance!


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