The Swimming Shoulder: why am I getting injured?


As we highlighted last week, the shoulder is a complex joint, often subject to overuse and injuries while training for triathlons and swimming challenges.

Some of the most common injuries affect the rotator cuff muscles, 4 small muscles whose function is to maintain the correct shoulder position.

When these muscles get out of balance through tightness, weakness or fatigue, the shoulder and shoulder blade complex lose the ability to move correctly, placing excessive stress and causing impingements of the rotator cuff tendons.

Rotator Cuff Injuries include inflammation, tendinopathies and strains/tears to the tendons from overuse or due to Subacromial Impingement – a combination of poor biomechanics and inflammation surrounding the bursa and the rotator cuff tendons, decreasing the space in which the tendons can move developing in pain and loss of range of movement.




The three most common causes of shoulder problems are:


  • Over-training: doing too much too soon, too much intensity work, or not spending enough attention to recovery and rest will cause the tendons to become overloaded, inflamed and it will increase the risk of sustaining tears. As for we often mentioned for running, it is important to get a proper program which will increase mileage gradually and that incorporated proper de-load phases and the necessary rest.
  • Poor Mobility: our day to day lives rarely require us to move our arms overhead, in addition we spend most of our time seated – often with poor posture – leaning in front of a computer. This changes the balance between our shoulder muscles, locking our arms in not-ideal positions and over time limiting our range of motion. When we force ourselves in positions our body cannot comfortably recreate, we create impingements and overload the wrong areas in our shoulders
  • Poor Stroke Technique: poor technique, especially when combined with poor mobility will almost certainly contribute to injuries down the line. Common problems are:


    • Flat body position: lack of rotation though the upper spine will place more stress through the shoulder
    • Poor hand placement: internally rotating your shoulder while hitting the water (think at thumb first) or crossing over the midline will reduce the space within your shoulder joint, increases the risk of tears and impingements. 
    • Poor stroke efficacy: a high rate of strokes – often caused by inefficient stroke technique with low power – will once again increase the stress on your shoulders and elbows.
    • Excessive or improper use of resistance paddles: if your technique is not on point, adding resistance will only increase the risk of injury. Think at this as adding more weights when you don’t know how to lift!



Are you guilty of any of the above? You may not realise that you are perpetuating your shoulder pain by not focusing on your own posture, mobility and technique.

Another important point to think about – exactly as we described for running – is that to improve your swimming you don’t always need to spend more time in the water. Addressing poor mobility, shoulder stability and control as well as increasing strength can all contribute to faster swimming times without the additional stress of higher mileage.

Don’t know where to start? Book your first physiotherapy or sports therapy assessment and start your rehabilitation program to learn how to train pain-free and get stronger by clicking the link below!





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