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Does your shoulder hurt after swimming?

Were you racing and felt pain in your shoulder?

Did you swim too hard during your session and felt pain in your shoulder?

You are probably experiencing “swimmer’s shoulder”

Haven’t heard of it? Don’t stress, we’re here to help.

butterfly stroke
swimmers shoulder

What is a swimmer's shoulder?

Swimmer’s shoulder, also called shoulder impingement, is a condition where swimmers often aggravate their shoulders while they swim due to the constant joint rotation. Your shoulder is one of the most mobile joints of your body and because of this need to be well supported by the ligaments and muscles surrounding the joint. You can overwork due to;

  • Poor technique
  • Over-training 
  • Fatigue
  • Hypermobility 


When you rotate your shoulder many times during your swimming session, this repetitive movement fatigues your rotator cuff muscles and can create the impingement of the shoulder

You can rotate your shoulder many times (thousands) in just an hour by simply swimming freestyle. This repetitive movement tires out your rotator cuff muscles and being positioned improperly will cause your surrounding tissues and muscles to rub against one another.

What symptoms should I expect?

sore shoulder with cap

A common symptom of swimmer’s impingement is pain radiating along the back part of the shoulder but can also be experienced in the front of your shoulder. Repetitive overhead and rotation of the shoulder can increase this pain. As the shoulder is a complex with the neck and thoracic region, pain may refer to the neck or down the arm. 

Generally other symptoms include;

  • Reduced Range of motion compared to the other shoulder
  • Reduced strength (can be due to pain) to other shoulder

What should I do now?

If you’re experiencing pain while swimming, make an appointment to see a physiotherapist. 

Firstly have relative rest off swimming and rest the shoulder a couple of days to reduce the inflammation. Avoid taking anti-inflammatories and don’t ice it. Do gentle shoulder movements and book in to see a physiotherapist. 

Your physiotherapist will create a tailored rehab program to get you back into the pool while you modify your training to gradually expose the shoulder back to full load. Modifications can include focussing on kicking rather than stroke, doing skill work rather than freestyle sprints- this is something your physiotherapist can discuss with your swim coach. 

paininury cycle

How is a swimmer's shoulder treated?

Your physiotherapist will devise a plan with you to;

  1. Reduce pain
  2. Restore range of motion
  3. Improve strength and stability to the shoulder
  4. Return to sport

Treatment of swimmer’s shoulder includes- soft tissue, trigger point, dry needling, activity modification, rehabilitation exercises, education and advice

What type of exercises should expect to receive in my rehab program?

Your rehabilitation program will not be the same as the next person as the program is tailored to your needs based upon the clinical assessments. 

Generally you can expect

  • Dynamic/ static stretching
  • Strength exercises
  • Plyometric exercises
  • Stability exercise
  • Skill-specific exercises
Don’t swim in pain and book in with one of our physiotherapists ASAP!

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