Shoulder Injuries in Competitive Swimming

Swimming is a tough sport, requiring hours of training and years of dedication. The demand on the muscles and joints of the human body is huge, often causing serious pain and injury to long term athletes.

A recent study of Melbourne based swimmers over a 12 month period has investigated the prevalence and cause of shoulder injuries in that particular swimming community. The study focused on competitive swimmers aged 17 to 27 years.

Each athlete initially had their shoulder mobility measured and their injury history recorded. This information was compared against the injury prevalence of the swimmers throughout the study.



The results were alarming, showing 38% of swimmers suffered from shoulder pain at some point in the year, while 23% were forced to modify or cease their training for at least 2 weeks. In competitive swimming, this kind of disruption to training can have serious consequences, sometimes undoing many hours of hard work.

Researchers identified a past history of shoulder injury as one of the main indicators of shoulder injury. In fact, it seems that a previous shoulder injury can make an athlete between 4 and 11 times more likely to suffer one in the future. This highlights the reoccurring nature of these injuries and the need for ongoing rehabilitation and strengthening.

The second risk factor relates to the shoulders ability to externally rotate. It was noticed that swimmers who had an abnormally high or low degree of external rotation were between 8 and 12 times more likely to develop shoulder pain and up to 11 times more likely to develop a serious injury.

The prevalence of shoulder pain and injury can often rest on the stroke and swimming technique. An abnormal level of external rotation is considered most damaging while swimming freestyle. It is thought that the reaching and twisting motion used in the recovery stroke, coupled with the resistance of the water during the propulsive stroke is a leading cause of both chronic and acute shoulder conditions.

Overall the study serves to highlight the need in competitive swimming for screening and identifying risk factors, leading to pre-emptive strengthening and injury prevention programs. This approach, when coupled with strong rehabilitation and physiotherapy is a great step towards lowering the risk of significant shoulder injuries amongst competitive swimmers.


Reference Article: Bennell, K., Blanch, P., Gabbe, B., Wajswelner, H., & Walker , H. (2012). Shoulder pain in swimmers: A 12-month prospective cohort study of incidence. Physical Therapy in Sport, 343-349. Passed