Shoulder Injuries from Swimming

Swimmer's shoulder, bursitis, and tendinitis are the three of the most common injuries in swimming. Learn more in the following article.
Shoulder Injuries from Swimming

Last update: 20 July, 2020

Swimming is usually the form of exercise prescribed for people who suffer from back pain, although in general, it’s a good sport for the health of everyone. However, it’s also necessary to keep in mind that it’s possible to suffer from shoulder injuries while swimming. Here we’ll take a look at some of the most common shoulder injuries that come from swimming.

Just like in any sport, swimming has risks. The biggest risk is for the shoulders, due to the specific movements that are made while swimming.

Swimmer’s shoulder: injuries from swimming

When an injury has the name of a sport in its title, that’s a clear sign that it’s common for athletes in that particular sport. Of all the shoulder injuries that are common in swimming, swimmer’s shoulder is the injury that affects the most athletes.

Technically speaking, this pathology is a subacromial impingement or an impingement of tendons of the rotator cuff. These tendons pass through an area of the shoulder with very little space, and when we raise our arms over our heads with internal rotation, space is made even smaller. Swimmers perform this gesture when their arms enter the water in crawl style.

This injury can manifest for several reasons:

  • Making this movement repeatedly, if you’re a frequent swimmer. Elite athletes, for example, can perform this injurious gesture thousands of times a day. The more that the movement is made, the more pressure is put on the tendons.
  • Muscular weakness. The stronger your muscles are, the more that your tendons can withstand tension.
  • Muscular instability. If your muscles are unstable, certain muscles won’t be able to execute their function, since stronger, more powerful muscles will overpower them.
  • Poor athletic form. If you free-swim or try to crawl swim without good form, you could be making movements with bad technique. This incorrect form could put you more at risk from suffering swimmer’s shoulder.
Shoulder injury

Treatment for shoulder injuries from swimming

The first thing to do when treating swimmers shoulder is to attack the inflammation. It’s important to take a period of brief rest and apply a cold compress, and if necessary, take anti-inflammatory medications.

Once the inflammation is controlled, you have to work the muscles that are involved in the injury.

  • Increase your flexibility by doing frequent stretches.
  • Work on your muscular strength by doing exercises especially for the muscles of the arm, shoulder, and back.
  • Work on your swimming form. This means assuring that you’re doing the movements and strokes correctly.

Once you’ve accomplished these three types of exercises out of the water without bother, it’s safe to return to the water. Recovery should always be gradual, so you can’t expect to return to training with the same intensity that you did before you were injured. It’s important to go gradually, paying attention to any pain or discomfort that you may experience.

Bursitis: shoulder injuries from swimming

Now we’re going to move on to the more general types of swimming-induced shoulder injuries. First up, there’s bursitis, which is an inflammation of the bursas. Bursas are fluid-filled bags that are located in friction-zones.

The body has bursas in the joints that make up the shoulder. Due to the constant friction incurred while we swim, these bursas can become inflamed.

In terms of treatment, the first step is to treat the inflammation, as we’ve previously noted. Then, it’s necessary to move the shoulder through the largest range of motion possible to ensure that there’s good movement.

Once the discomfort has subsided, you should gradually increase the intensity of training. By moving gradually, you can avoid re-aggravating the injury.

Shoulder strength routine


Just like in any other part of the body, the shoulder tendons involved in the movements of the arm can become injured.

As with the other cases mentioned, curing tendinitis begins with attacking the inflammation. In this case, in addition to anti-inflammatory methods, you also need to incorporate eccentric stretching. Obviously, you’ll need to take a break from the exercise or the sport that caused the injury until your symptoms subside.

Swim correctly and use your head

To prevent shoulder injuries while swimming, the most important thing is to ensure that your form is correct. A bad technique puts you at risk of suffering a range of injuries.

On the other hand, we have to respect periods of training as well as periods of rest. By alternating days when we do certain sports, we can avoid overworking the same muscles.

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The shoulder is a complex structure where several different tissues meet. Even if just one of them has a problem, this can cause shoulder pain.

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The contents of this publication are written for informational purposes. At no time do they facilitate or replace the diagnoses, treatments, or recommendations of a professional. Consult your trusted specialist if you have any doubts and seek their approval before beginning any procedure.