Warm-Up Tips for Minimizing Shoulder Pain
The risk of shoulder pain during swimming is a real one. Even with perfect technique, the number of repetitions alone can wreak havoc on your rotator cuff. Improper technique can increase your risk of injury. It's important for you to use a correct catch motion with your hands and maintain a high elbow recovery at all times, including during warm-up.

During the arm recovery above water, keep your fingertips pointed down toward the bottom of the pool on freestyle and extend your arm directly in line with your shoulder (vs. crossing in front of the head). Your rotator muscles are relatively small and weak. If you're just pulling your hand through the water (versus rotating your body while you pull), you may be putting too much stress on rotator muscles.

Important factors to consider about your workout and shoulder pain:

  • In the span of a 3,000 yard workout, your shoulders will endure nearly 1,000 repetitions.
  • Incorrect repetitions can cause impingement of the tendons of the rotator cuff muscles (Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor, and Subcapularis muscle tendons). These muscles help hold the ball and socket joint of the shoulder tightly in place.
  • The soft tissues surrounding the rotator cuff can become inflamed. Since the tendons all cross through a relatively small space, the space tightens and impingement occurs and you experience a “pinching feeling.”
There are several things you can do during warm-up to minimize the risk of shoulder pain and injury:
  • Use the first 200-300 yards as “stretching while swimming,” by putting your shoulders through the motions with little force on the hand. This will stretch and loosen your rotator cuff muscles.
  • Use pulling early in workout to help your shoulder. Pulling easy – or, “soft pulling” -- can continue to loosen the rotators while strengthening these muscles.
  • While doing warm-up and “soft pulling,” think about riding a bike in an easy gear, or spinning. This movement allows free rotation of the joint and there is very little power involved.
In addition to stretching before and after swimming, you should acknowledge the first sensations of shoulder pain, rather than try to ignore them. The earlier you recognize the pain and allow the inflammation to retreat, the quicker your recovery will be. Icing and anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) can also decrease the inflammation. You might also consider strengthening your external rotators. Ask your coach about surgical tubing and shoulder strengthening exercises.