Swimming is a notoriously good sport when it comes to preventing injuries. Compared to running, and the impact that it places on your joints, swimming is a low-impact, high-cardio sport that generally allows an athlete to not worry much about injury. With that said, there is at least one overuse injury that we hear from swimmers: Rotator Cuff Injury. A rotator cuff injury can be painful, affect swimming, and have extended impacts in other areas of life, so it is worth taking very seriously.
First, what is the rotator cuff? It is the group of muscles and tendons that cluster around your shoulder and connect your upper arm to your shoulder blade. Because they are a very integrated group of muscles, having a strain in one or an imbalance in the strength or stretch of them can create issues for you. That is what happens when a rotator cuff injury stems from overuse. Like the domino effect that can happen to your knees and ankles if you get a hip injury, a strained muscle in the rotator cuff can spread to other areas as your body tried to compensate.
A rotator cuff injury involves pain when moving the shoulder, especially when trying to lift the arm overhead. A common test for rotator cuff injury is to stick your arm directly out in front of you, ask someone to apply light pressure with their hand on the top of your wrist, and then attempt to lift the arm upward (pushing their hand up). If this type of activity presents pain or, in difficult cases, such weakness that you can’t even lift the arm up, there is a good chance you are suffering from rotator cuff injury.
Other symptoms include stiffness in the shoulder, pain when trying to do household errands such as reach up for a high shelf, or soreness and reaching forward while doing a freestyle swim.
How to Treat Rotator Cuff Injuries:
If you find yourself with a sore or weak rotator cuff, some self-treatment can often solve the problem. In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary, but that is a definite last resort. Here are a few things you can do to treat your injury and aid in the healing process.
Once you have rested and rehabbed the shoulder, consider how you can prevent the injury in the future. Doing regular stretching will help, and if your injury was caused by swimming, you may want to consult a swim coach to be sure your stroke is smooth, balanced, and not placing unwarranted pressure on your shoulder muscles.