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Swimmer’s Shoulder: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

The shoulder joint in our body is among the most complex joints. Its wide range of movement makes it one of the most versatile joints. Unlike most other sports, swimming is unique because the shoulders propel the body weight against water resistance.

To swim efficiently, you’ll need a maximum range of motion and flexibility. This can sometimes lead to shoulder laxity or instability. Most swimmers visit their physician with complaints related to their shoulders, and a swimmer’s shoulder is a common complaint.

Here at Hyderabad Shoulder Clinics, Dr Chandra Sekhar and his fellow shoulder doctors are committed to treating any shoulder problem and supporting your return to a healthy lifestyle. If you are experiencing a problem with your shoulder, he is the best orthopaedic specialist you need to see.

What is Swimmer’s Shoulder?

Swimmer’s shoulder, also known as shoulder impingement syndrome, is a condition where the structures in your shoulder rub and pinch against one another while swimming due to constant joint rotation. Approximately 40% to 90% of swimmers experience this injury in their careers.

Since your shoulder joint is highly mobile, it requires good support from the muscles and ligaments surrounding it. It is possible to overwork your muscles and ligaments by doing things such as:

  • Inefficient techniques
  • Training too hard or practising too much
  • Weaknesses or Fatigue
  • A previous injury to the shoulder
  • Hypermobility
  • Using paddles that are too big for the hands

You can suffer from specific injuries if you continue doing this:

  • Rupture of the rotator cuff
  • Rotator cuff impingement
  • Damage to the ligaments and capsule
  • Tendonitis
  • Bursitis
  • Cartilage damage

In just an hour of freestyle swimming, you may need to rotate your shoulder hundreds of times. As a result of these repeated movements, your rotator cuff muscles become drained and positioned improperly, causing the surrounding tissues and muscles to rub against each other.

Signs & symptoms of swimmer’s shoulder

The pain that radiates along the back of the shoulder and feels deeply embedded in your muscles is a significant sign of a swimmer’s shoulder. There is a possibility of experiencing pain in the front part of your shoulder in some cases.

It can be aggravated by repetitive overhead movements, as in swimming. If you swim for a long time, the pain will get worse. In these cases, it’s called shoulder tendonitis, an inflammatory condition where the biceps tendons and supraspinatus muscles are inflamed in the shoulder.

Whenever you perform a swimming stroke, you can injure different areas of your shoulder; therefore, you may feel pain in different parts, from localized pain in your shoulder joint to the pain that extends up your neck or down your arm.

Some other symptoms of Swimmer’s Shoulder include:

  • Finding it difficult to reach behind your back
  • Extending the arm overhead causes pain
  • Inflammation and pain localized to the shoulder
  • Pain that radiates up to the neck or down to the arm from the shoulder
  • Whenever you rest or lie on your shoulder, the pain worsens
  • Tenderness
  • An inability to move freely or control joints or muscles
  • lazy elbow

Treatment for swimmer’s shoulder

Generally, conventional treatment options can relieve shoulder pain and heal inflamed tendons. The experts may also recommend RICE therapy – rest, Ice, Compression & Elevation, and pain medication. 

Some other treatments include:

Ergonomic adjustments: You can prevent shoulder problems by reducing repetitive movements. Make changes in your work environment and at home. For instance, shifting frequently used things into lower shelves means that you won’t need to reach overhead.

Steroid injections: Steroid medications are used for treating shoulder joint inflammation. These medications relieve pain temporarily while you recover and rest.

Physical therapy: Stretching and joint stabilization exercises and strength training can quickly heal your damaged shoulder. A physical therapist designs a customized plan depending on your injury. Physical therapy can also prevent re-injury.

Will a swimmer’s shoulder require surgical treatment?

In most cases, a swimmer’s shoulder problem can be treated without surgery. If the condition doesn’t improve with conventional treatment, surgery is the next option. Subacromial decompression is the surgical procedure performed by a shoulder surgeon in which inflamed tissue and excess bone (bone spurs) are removed from the shoulder.

The surgeon can sometimes use a minimally invasive approach to treat the patient. Arthroscopic shoulder decompression is an invasive procedure where the surgeon reaches the damaged shoulder part with the help of a thin, light-headed tube called an arthroscope. The procedure involves making a few tiny incisions near the damaged shoulder part. 

Preventing swimmer’s shoulder

If you want to lower the risk of swimmer’s shoulder, do the following:

  • Avoid or refrain from repeated stress on your shoulder joint as much as possible.
  • Whenever you exercise or work, make sure your body mechanics are correct.
  • Rest when you feel your shoulder joint is tired or overused.
  • Stretch your muscles and do warm-up exercises before swimming or playing other sports. 

We use our shoulders to perform numerous activities in our day-to-day life, so occasionally, you may experience stiffness and soreness, which is natural. But if shoulder pain persists for a long time and affects your quality of life or day-to-day activities, consulting a doctor is very important. At Shoulder & Knees Clinic, Dr Tilak Mahesh, one of the best orthopaedic surgeons in Kurnool, offers a wide range of treatment options for many shoulder conditions, including a swimmer’s shoulder. Call +91-9885298383 to book an appointment with the doctor.

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