Why You Shouldn’t Shrug Off Swimmer’s Shoulder

Man with hurt shoulder
Photo Courtesy: (c) Stockbyte
By Dr. G. John Mullen, Swimming World Contributor
Swimmer’s Shoulder is all too common on the pool deck. Many shrug it off (pun intended), saying shoulder pain is normal or it is simply shoulder soreness. Unfortunately, pain is pain, which reduces strength and enjoyment within the sport of swimming. Unfortunately, many activities during the day, in and out of the pool, result in muscular compensations which overuse specific muscles.

The upper trapezius is often overactive, creating pain, discomfort, and/or soreness in swimmers with shoulder pain. While doing thousands of overhead motions in the pool, the upper trapezius becomes overactive. Combine this overactivity with poor sitting posture, phone use, and improper dryland technique and you’ve got one well-cooked piece of meat!

Even while sitting, many people raise their shoulders to their ears during stressful periods. While you raise your shoulders towards your ears, you are reducing the space of the rotator cuff tendons to slide under the acromion. This increases risk for primary or external impingement.

Jenni Brozena and I discuss this in detail in the Advanced Swimming Podcast, specifically addressing why Swimmer’s Shoulder is on the rise. During this discussion we break down the pathomechanics of the shoulder in many swimmers.

Luckily, there are tricks for improving an overactive upper trapezius muscle. Using a baseball, lacrosse ball, tennis ball, or heavy bar can provide relief on this overactive muscle. Check out how to fix your upper trapezius muscle with this video. Just remember, simply making the shoulder feel better won’t be a long-term fix! Working with a skilled physical therapist for improving your muscular imbalances and correcting your faulty movements (in and out of the water) is key for long-term success!

*All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.
 
*All swimming and dryland training and instruction should be performed under the supervision of a qualified coach or instructor, and in circumstances that ensure the safety of participants.
18 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
avatar
5 years ago

Euan Keighley

avatar
5 years ago

Jose Retz

avatar
5 years ago

Nicole Cordero

avatar
5 years ago

We have to keep an eye on Maddox, today he said he was ok! Brandon Hammonds

avatar
5 years ago

Sam Williams

avatar
5 years ago

Muhammad Abdel Fattah

avatar
5 years ago

Anne Tavierne read this!

avatar
5 years ago

Marcia Barry

avatar
5 years ago

Sammy Gregory

avatar
5 years ago

I finally fixed my shoulder, 25 years after retiring from competitive swimming. IMS with my Physio has literally worked like magic. Doing a length of butterfly could mess my shoulder up for days before IMS, now I’m good to go and it feels great!

avatar
Bad Luck
5 years ago

I Must Say I do not know what IMS is. Injection Molded Soldering?

jk

avatar
Bad Luck
5 years ago

I tore up both shoulders, unimaginably bad (virtually everything possible was wrong with them (according to the endless MRI reports) including advanced arthritis). There was so much on the reports, the radiologist barely mentioned anything related to impingment (lack of room under the shoulder blades for the shoulder to move freely). I did the massive damage many months after swimming season had ended and the early pain was only stiffness in the shoilders (neck and other problems were far more painful. I had run smack into an autoimmune disease, horribly, with maximum damage for an older athlete. Sticking with the discussion on shoulder problems, I’ll leave out all the other grisly details. Within two years I had surgery on both shoulders and the disease was finally identified. The surgeon had sent me to physical therapy with no particular instructions (frightenly common) and the physical therapists proceeded to almost destroy my shoulders because of their ignorance. I quickly abandoned the disasterous PT. Subsequent MRIs highlighted the likelyhood of impingment. (And there are different shoulder bone types/angles which means some people have less space to begin with.) ALL the exercises I had been told to do were severely aggravating the problems! My shoulders were unbelievably bad and I saw no path to recovery. I knew never to attempt any prescribed exercise – never push any direction to its limit. The luckiest thing I ever did was stumble in to reading about DMSO. DMSO is a deservedly controversial substance and I would only recommend someone using it after they exhaustively researched everything about it. And then some. For me, DMSO proved miraculous. Miraculous. Reduced the inflammation including tendinosis and massive fluid buildup. I proceeded into any therapy (of my own design) extremelly cautiously. It was summer and the first try in the pool (20 minutes) was like being 120 years old and 1 year old at the same time. So many direction my arms wouldn’t go and so little contol of them. But once a week and tried to swim, and every time there was very significant progress. I had lost 80% of arm muscle but I could see it coming back strong with just a little swimming. I had always swam all the strokes so I was swimming them all in my recovery. The persistent problem was not being able to recover my arms out of the water in butterfly. I’ve now, after less than three months restored all my strokes to their pre-disaster levels – except the butterfly is lagging because half the time my arms do not exit cleanly. My strength is back, and I have no shoulder problems although I have yet to see what throwing a ball or swinging a tennis racket feels like. I am in the state of shock as to how thoroughly swimming (and I am a student of correct technique) has restored my shoulders and arms. Granted I swim at most twice a week and skip if I am suspicious of any slight pain. But I am astounded as to how good the hard motions of all the four main swimming stroke, and other strokes, and the aforementioned cure have proven on shoulders that had been desperately damaged.

avatar
5 years ago

Sean McNicholl

avatar
5 years ago

Philipp Ferring

avatar
5 years ago

Elton Wei Chan justin ahem ahem

avatar
5 years ago
Reply to  Phillip Kwok

He doesn’t shrug it off he quits swim

avatar
5 years ago

Cornelia Jerresand

avatar
5 years ago
Reply to  Pontus Jonsson

??