How Can Swimming Injuries be Prevented and Treated?

Written by: Damien O’Sullivan, MPT 

Swimming is a fun, recreational activity that can also be an effective workout. There are more than a million competitive and recreational swimmers in the United States participating in this low-impact fitness activity. More than a third of these competitive athletes practice up to 4-5 hours a day, 4-5 times a week and train year round. Training in such a manner places a swimmer’s joints under immense pressure and greatly increases the chances of developing an overuse injury.

The most commonly injured areas tend to be the shoulders, knees, hips and back. There are four strokes that are recognized in competitive swimming: freestyle, butterfly, backstroke, and breaststroke.  The choice of stoke that a swimmer specializes in plays a notable role in dictating the location and type of injury that they are most susceptible to.  For example, an individual specializing in breast stroke is 5 times more likely to suffer from knee pain due to the valgus biomechanical stresses imposed on their lower limbs.  Freestyle and backstroke are the main causes of swimmer’s shoulder and butterfly has the highest incidence of lower back pain.

One of the best ways to prevent the onset of repetitive stress injuries is to vary the strokes you use while swimming. This helps split the workload more equally throughout the body. Working with a certified swimming coach to learn good stroke technique and correct biomechanics is also crucial.

If you do notice an injury then timely communication with a sports physical therapist or athletic trainer is of critical importance. Key symptoms to be watchful for include: dull persistent pain presenting as an ache, increasing periods of discomfort both during and after activity, visible swelling or redness to the associated body part. Catching these injuries early can be the difference in ensuring you have a successful season rather than being sidelined and frustrated for prolonged periods.

About Damien O’Sullivan, MPT: 

Damien graduated with a Masters in Physical Therapy from Queen Margaret University in 2009. He developed and ran a highly successful Physical Therapy Clinic in Cork, Ireland. During this time he was head physical therapist to the Irish United Taekwondo Federation. He started working at the Performance Center in 2016 and currently treats a variety of sports injuries and orthopedic conditions.