You’ve probably heard of some swimmers hurting their shoulders pretty bad. All those laps we swim every day can be a huge strain on our shoulders. Issues like these are really common in aquatics.
The aquatics-related shoulder injuries we come across can be very major, very painful and can make it difficult/impossible to practice or compete. The “road to recovery” for these injuries is often long and frustrating. Injuries can be devastating for the athlete, the team, the parents, and the coaching staff. In short, injuries are just bad news for our entire program. We’d like to steer clear of them as much as we can.
This is why we wanted to provide some basic information on shoulder injury prevention. There’s a saying that goes as follows: “An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.” We’d like our readers to keep that saying in mind as we lay these preventative steps out. The prevention requires a little extra care and work on the athlete’s part. But, in the end, it’s far less work to prevent a shoulder injury than it is to cure one.
Daily Warm-Up: Stretching, Resistance Bands, Body Blades
Take a few minutes before practice to warm up your muscles by stretching. Stretch your whole body if you can. It’s important to remember that stretching should not be seen as something you do only when your muscles feel strained. Daily stretching is an important part of injury prevention and maintenance for all athletes; it’s not a cure, but it will greatly reduce the chances of you getting injured. When you stretch, pay extra close attention to areas that are susceptible to injury (i.e. your shoulders).
A couple of key shoulder stretches we’d recommend are as follows:
- Raise your arms and hands up into the “streamline position”. Get as long as you can, and then gently squeeze your arms behind your ears. Hold for 10-15 seconds, and repeat.
- Keep your arm straight and bring it across your body, horizontally, at shoulder level and hook it from underneath using your other arm. Gently pull towards your body and hold for 10-15 seconds before switching arms. You should feel this stretch in your shoulder and behind your shoulder blade.
- Bend your arm and point your elbow to the sky. Using your other arm, gently pull your elbow behind your head and hold for 10-15 seconds before switching arms.
2. Resistance Bands
Another great way to warm up our shoulders before practice is by using resistance bands. Our shoulders are an entire system of larger and smaller muscles working together. Going through a range of motions with resistance bands helps strengthen all of these muscles together. The more these muscles are strengthened and used, the smaller chance of them becoming injured.
3. Body Blades
Another useful tool we recommend is “body blades.” Body blades are great for swimmers because they can strengthen your muscles while improving your balance, blood flow, posture, stabilization, and coordination. The body blade relies on vibration and inertia, which rapidly contracts and stabilizes the muscles with virtually no strain on your body’s joints. You can exercise your core and back, or your arms and shoulders.
Swim with Perfect Technique
Swimming with efficiency through the water lessens a lot of unnecessary strain swimming puts on your body, which is why it will also improve shoulder health. Ask your coaches to look closer at your swim stroke and if they can offer ways for you to improve your technique. As another resource, we’ve included a link that breaks down proper freestyle technique and shows some underwater footage of U.S. Olympic gold medalist, Nathan Adrian.
1. Improve posture
Avoid slouching when you sit or stand. It puts a strain on your spine and can become a bad habit with an endless amount of accompanying health issues, including shoulder and scapular health. Likewise, improving your posture is a great habit that comes with an endless amount of accompanying health benefits to surrounding areas, including shoulder and scapular health.
2. Sleep on your back
Limit how much you sleep on your stomach. Sleeping on your side is fine, but the best results come from sleeping on your back. Make it a lifelong habit to avoid sleeping on your stomach, if you can.
3. Thoracic Spine mobility improvements
The thoracic section of your spine is your upper to mid-back and plays a huge role in shoulder and spine health. We’ve provided a link to five basic exercises that can really help improve your thoracic mobility.
“I Formation Exercise”
In swimming, our shoulders go through a vigorous repetition of a downward pulling motion. A healthy practice to prevent injury is giving your shoulder some resistance in the opposite direction. You can do this by grabbing a few five-pound weights (adjust weight amount as needed).
- Stand straight up with one five-pound weight in each hand. Turn your weighted hand so your palm is facing backward and the back of your hands are facing frontwards.
- Keeping your arms straight, slowly raise both hands in sync until they are above your head, shoulder-width apart. The back of your hands should be facing upwards during the movement. This is what creates the “I” formation.
- Slowly bring the weights back down until they are by your side again.
- Repeat 10-15 times for 3 complete sets.
It’s important to allow your body to recover. We recommend icing sore areas, rolling out, getting massaged regularly, and getting a minimum of eight hours of sleep every night. These are all great ways to speed up the efficiency and speed of your recovery, which will make daily practice a lot more bearable.
We understand that it’s a little more work. But, doing these exercises for 15-30 minutes a day will lead to stronger, more flexible shoulders. This, in turn, will minimize injuries and improve performance in the water. An extra bonus, in the long run, is avoiding lots of painful visits to the doctor’s office. Your wallet will thank you for that, as well.
Image courtesy of Pixabay.