Sports Spotlight on: Swimming

Next up under the ‘sport spotlight’, is Swimming. A popular sport that’s been missed by many during 2020, our Physio Becky (in our Altrincham and Wilmslow clinics) takes a look at common injuries; tips for treatment and prevention, and making the most of your time in the pool…..

With swimming pools starting to reopen, pros and amateurs alike are returning to pools and waterways across the country. Apart from a few who will have taken advantage of Britain’s vast open water ways during lock down, and unseasonably warm summer; for many it will be a long awaited return to the water.

Swimmers are well versed in early morning practices, team workouts, and high volume/repetition. What many may not know is that swimming with poor stroke mechanics or decreased flexibility and strength may cause an injury, especially after a significant period away from the water.

By taking part in a strength training and a stretching program, young swimmers can help improve their muscular and cardiovascular endurance. This in turn will lead to better and more consistent stroke mechanics, and older swimmers can improve their upper back and shoulder mobility to prevent injury occurring.

Neck and shoulder injuries are among the most common injuries that swimmers face……

Shoulder impingement – the shoulder is a highly mobile joint, but without the muscular stability to control the joint in the outer ranges needed for swimming, impingement of the small rotator cuff muscles can occur. This can also be influenced by upper back stiffness.

Rotator cuff tendonitis or tears – these can occur when training volume or intensity is increased too rapidly.

Tears in the cartilage around the shoulder socket – these tend to occur when the range of motion in the shoulder exceeds the body’s ability to stabilise the joint (strength) so may be a risk factor after a period of lay off in training.

Bicep tendinopathy – Irritation of the bicep tendon can occur particularly when training volumes are increased suddenly.

Neck pain – Reduced neck or upper back range of movement, caused by poor posture or large volumes of desk based work. This can increase the likelihood of neck pain on return to swimming, especially when breathing in front crawl or breastroke.

Lower back pain – Poor technique and / or poor core stability will increase the likelihood of lower back pain when swimming the face down strokes.


Preventing Swimming Injuries

It’s important to gradually increase the intensity and length of swims to avoid overloading your skeletal system. Listen to your body. Allow the body adequate rest periods between competitions and training sessions. Practice some upper limb mobility and shoulder strength exercises away from the pool. Also, always remember to warm up and cool down – as you would in most sports.

Warm up – Make sure you swim some light easy lengths before trying to push yourself. If swimming competitively, spend some time warming up on dry land first.

Cool down – Take time to bring your body temp back down after a hard swim. Include stretches to maintain mobility.


Tips for improving swim strokes

Freestyle stroke

When breathing, keep the head in line with the body to avoid neck pain or numbness and tingling in the arms. Rotate the body toward the breathing side to avoid turning the neck too far and over-reaching with the arms. Breathe equally to both sides, to prevent excess stress on one side of the neck.


Weak muscles in the front of the neck will tire more quickly than strong ones, resulting in neck soreness with increased laps. Swimmers just starting to swim this stroke should gradually increase both distance and intensity. Rotating the body properly with each stroke also will help decrease stress on the neck and shoulders.


Keep the head in line with the body to avoid increased stress on the neck. Strong thigh and hip muscles will make for a stronger kick and a faster swim. Leg strength will also help decrease the stress and strain placed on the knees as swimming distance increases.


Proper timing of this stroke decreases the possibility of neck, shoulder, or back pain. Focusing on a strong kick and upper body will aid in body position, as well as breathing.