Shoulder Injuries in Swimming
By Scott Hyldahl, Therapy Dir, Spotsylvania, May 19, 2014

Can you imagine running a marathon, five days a week? Probably not; but, that is the equivalent of what many elite, competitive swimmers perform in the pool on a year-round basis. It has been suggested that swimming one mile is equivalent to running four miles. Competitive swimmers train 10 to 11 months of the year, and their careers can last 10 to 15 years. Some practice twice a day and at elite levels, average 8000 to 20000 yards (5-12 miles). A swimmer completing a 10,000 yard freestyle workout performs 2400 to 4000 overhead strokes per session. Therefore, it is no wonder that an estimated 40 to 60 percent of competitive swimmers experience shoulder pain, to the extent that their training is interrupted.

Perhaps the single most important factor in training is technique. Poor technique leads to increased energy expenditure, which leads to poor performance. Technique can be greatly improved by increasing muscle strength, endurance, flexibility, and stroke mechanics. If all of these variables are not accounted for, shoulder injuries often occur. Physical Therapists at Fredericksburg Orthopaedic Associates (FOA), who specialize in evaluating and treating shoulder pain in swimmers, help rehabilitate athletes so they can resume training and competing. Better yet, they can help to prevent future injuries and enhance performance.*


Typical shoulder injuries for swimmers and many other overhead athletes, such as tennis players, include: tendonitis, bursitis, impingement, fatigue-related overuse syndromes, instabilities and postural faults or muscular imbalances. The good news is that with proper therapy and training, these problems can be overcome and often prevented.



Physical therapists at FOA provide in-season management and “damage control” of injured athletes. Certain modalities such as ultrasound, electrostimulation, and iontophoresis can help reduce pain and inflammation. Improving muscular strength of the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizing muscles is emphasized, as is improving flexibility. At FOA, we provide individualized exercise programs, and hands-on manual therapy techniques to help athletes of all levels improve their performance and general wellness. So weather you are a varsity swimmer, or swim merely for recreation, proper technique is the key to success. Who knows, maybe you will be the next Michael Phelps to bring home the gold from the next summer Olympics!

About the Author-

Scott Hyldahl, PT, DPT treats a variety of orthopedic and sports injuries at FOA. He swam competitively for 15 years and was a finalist at the conference, state, and national level. As an undergraduate student, Scott swam for the Varsity Swim Team at the University of Richmond. Scott enjoys working with young athletes to prevent swimming injuries and to improve their performance in the pool. He also enjoys cheering for his son (11) and daughter(9) on their neighborhood swim team.

* The Athlete’s Shoulder by James Andrews, MD, and Kevin Wilk, PT; WB Saunders Company, 1994

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