Written by Laura Ham

Seasonal Swimming – A Physiotherapist’s Perspective

Preventing Swimming Injuries

Although our Melbourne weather is at times telling us a bit of a different story, it’s quickly becoming that time of year again. With summer upon us, it’s time for people to start shedding some layers, pulling the bathers out of the cupboard & re-uniting with the pool (or the ocean!) as we think about adding swimming back into our exercise regime.

For us ‘fair weather swimmers,’ our natural instinct is jump straight into training as soon as the sunshine starts to light up not only our days but also our motivation levels. However, before you throw yourself into a daily routine of slogging out the kilometres with the black line, it might be worth acquainting yourself briefly with some of the common injuries that swimmers face. That way, you can start yourself on a path that leads to an injury free swimming season this summer.

What can go wrong?

Swimming is a fantastic form of exercise which enables you to improve your cardio fitness, strength and endurance without large amounts of joint loading. However, as with any sport there is a risk of injury. Three common swimming injuries are described below:

1. Swimmer’s shoulder.

Swimmer’s shoulder is an umbrella term used to describe a variety of overuse shoulder injuries. By far the most common is impingement syndrome.

‘Impingement’ describes compression or irritation of the structures travelling through your shoulder joint. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the mystical ‘rotator cuff’ – actually, they’re kind of important. The rotator cuff comprises of four muscles which act to centre the head of your humerus (arm bone) in the socket as you elevate your arm. Dysfunction of the rotator cuff can lead to compression, friction and irritation of the structures travelling through your shoulder joint. This causes pain when you lift your arm or repetitively perform overhead activities (e.g. swimming, throwing).

When you think about it, if on average you take around 10 strokes per arm to swim 25 metres, and swim 2km for your session, that’s 800 times that you are potentially jamming those structures of your shoulder every time you swim! No wonder it gets sore if your biomechanics aren’t right!

2. Back Pain

Back pain is a condition that people rarely associate with swimming – doesn’t everyone tell you to jump straight in the pool when your back’s a bit crook? If you’re experiencing lower back pain when you swim, it could be due to a variety of factors. These may include a lack of rotation with your swimming technique, or weakness of your core musculature which may lead you to compensate with exaggerated movement of your lower back. This in turn can lead to spasm and pain of the muscles in this area.

3. Swimmer’s Knee

Knee pain can also occur with swimming, most commonly with breastroke. The ‘whipping’ motion of your knee joint as you perform breastroke kick places stress through the medial collateral ligament (MCL), which may develop small tears with repetitive motions. Poor technique, or weakness of your core musculature may also be contributing factors to the development of knee pain. Symptoms will include pain on the medial (inside) aspect of your knee, and subsequent difficulty performing not only your swimming strokes but potentially also your land based activities.

How can Physio Help?

1. Injury Assessment
2. Education & advice – proper technique, role of stabilisers & core
3. Prescription of a variety of exercises to help improve your strength and technique
4. Pilates, core and postural advice
See the video below where Emma and myself demonstrate the basic principles of correct freestyle stroke, and touch on some of the common errors (and subsequent injuries!) that may occur whilst swimming.


Where can I get more information?

Here at Viva we have a friendly team who are happy to assist you with any questions you may have regarding sports-specific injury prevention, advice and management.

Don’t be disheartened by all this injury talk. Remember that knowledge is everything. Whether you’re aiming to swim a PB in the Pier to Pub, go the distance in the MS MegaSwim or merely tear up the laps at your local pool, it’s always good to get some advice.