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Swimming is incredible for the body and mind.... if it is done properly. If done incorrectly it can lead to a multitude of injuries, the most common ones being neck pain, shoulder pain and back pain.
The best stroke for all round body fitness and injury prevention is front crawl but again, it is the worst stroke if you get it wrong! Swimming technique is therefore the be all and end all to preventing and treating injury. Not only that but it is also what will transform your experience from feeling like you are fighting the water gasping for breath to experiencing your whole body as a powerful machine as you slice through the water. You can feel your muscles working, your heart beating, your breath connected to your stroke, your body connected to the water. There is a rhythm to it all. Your swimming is strong and smooth, silent and still. Your whole body and being feels alive. It’s an amazing feeling. This description is from Immerse swim coaches who we have worked with for many years. They really know their stuff and whether you are a complete novice or wanting to slice some time off your iron man swim they are the people you need to see. They even give our patients an initial swim check FOR FREE! And in case you were wondering, we don’t work on commission, we just genuinely think they are great!
At Octopus Clinic we have Physiotherapists who are specialists in the treatment of swimming injuries so will give you advice and exercises specific to your level. Our hands on techniques will get you back and enjoying the water in no time. Here are some pointers on the causes of common swimming injuries.
Swimmers often get shoulder impingement syndrome which is pain at the top and/or outer edge of the shoulder. It normally comes on gradually, often after intensifying your training, attempting to modify your swimming technique or training when tired. To understand this condition it would be useful for you to read the ‘how the shoulder works‘ page on this website before reading the following. It can start with being painful after swimming at first and then gradually increasing with other activities like reaching, lifting, carrying or in bed at night. Shoulder impingement is often painful through the middle of the range of movement as you take your arm out to the side and then up to above your head. Try this test: stop as soon as you feel pain, stand with your arms out in front of you as if you are hugging a large bear, and holding two pints of water in your hands! Now twist your arms so that you pour the imaginary water on the floor. If it hurts this is one of the signs of shoulder impingement. Impingement means that soft tissues like tendons, rotator cuff muscles or bursa are being squashed or irritated in a confined space at the top of the shoulder. Many different things can cause impingement. It can be either something “extra” in the space, such as thickened, torn or inflamed tendons, inflamed bursa, or something closing up the space available, such as arthritis in the joint, cartilage tears or abnormal bone shape, or even altered shoulder posture. Inflammation causing pain prevents the muscles from working correctly and the swelling further reduces the space available causing more restriction and pain. This all may sound rather dramatic but research now backs up our own experience that it responds really well to intensive physiotherapy.
Treatment consists of correcting shoulder position to take strain off the inflamed structures, retraining the stabilising muscles of the shoulder blade, strengthening the rotator cuff muscles and releasing tight muscles like the pecs and lats, In swimming this involves exercises above shoulder height, mimicking and slightly adjusting the way that the shoulder blade and arm are rotating through this range.The thoracic spine (mid back) may also need mobilising, this needs to be moving well to enable full shoulder movement, and is often stiff. If you are not rotating enough in the thoracic spine during front crawl then the shoulder will rotate excessively, causing shoulder impingement. Strengthening your glutes and core muscles may also be included in your treatment. These large muscle groups may seem a fair distance from the shoulders, but they have a huge effect on the ability of the shoulder muscles to function efficiently. Just take a look at a profession swimmers buttock muscles if you don’t believe us! Please click on this link to learn how to train shoulder posture which enables the shoulder to function efficiently without excess strain going through the joint and surrounding tissues. Please click on the links to learn about: training shoulder blade stabilisers, training the serratus anterior, how to release the lats (latissimus dorsi) muscles, how to mobilise a stiff thoracic spine and of course, how to train the rotator cuff muscles that are often weak.
Neck pain or stiffness in swimmers can be muscular or can be an indicator of something more severe like intervertebral disc damage so it is really important to get it properly assessed by a Physiotherapist or Osteopath. A common cause of neck problems in swimmers is excessive extension in the neck instead of pure rotation. In other words; bending the neck backwards in order to reach the surface and take a breath. Therefore addressing body and neck rotation to enable you to keep your chin tucked in whilst turning the head is key.
Back pain in swimmers can be caused by poor technique; in particular if the body is flexing and extending with the arms and legs, rotating or side bending excessively is some segments due to stiffness elsewhere. Strengthening the deep stability muscles of the lower back and pelvis is key to resolving this problem. This will enable you to hold your pelvis in a neutral position and maintain the correct spinal curves. However it is important to get back pain fully assessed by your Physiotherapist or Osteopath so that they can establish whether it is muscular or other structures like the facet joints or intervertebral discs.
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