March 2, 2019

So what is swimmer’s shoulder exactly?It is pain in the shoulder which is usually more towards the front and outside. This can be due to poor posture, muscle imbalances and altered joint kinematics. What is kinematics you ask? It is how the joint moves but it includes capsular stability, muscle strength and the mobility of that joint. The pain is usually felt as the work out progresses or may even hurt more throughout your day with use of the arm as symptoms become more irritable. How often does this really occur? The incidence of shoulder pain in swimmers can range from 27-84% according to the literature. Which when we consider that swimmers can exceed 4000 strokes per training session, it does not seem unrealistic for this pain to occur especially if certain factors are not ideal. That being said this pain can be sport altering for triathletes so let’s discuss what those factors are.

This can include both intrinsic and extrinsic factors contributing to the pain in the shoulder. The intrinsic factors can include impingement caused by tightness in the posterior capsule (or back of the shoulder) and impingement due to increased laxity in the front of the shoulder and failure of the rotator cuff muscles (RTC) and scapular stabilizers to maintain proper positioning of the glenohumeral head in the socket. Pretty much this comes down to things being too tight in the back or too loose in the front without muscular control. The extrinsic factors focus more on overuse, improper use of equipment during training, poor swim form (especially with overhead movements), overusing paddles during swimming which can place strain on the shoulder joint and lastly, taking too much time off then trying to return to the previous level of training. These are the things that happen outside of our body that impact the pain we feel.

By Stacey Head PT, WCS, CLT, ATC