Let’s talk…Swimming Shoulder

Swimming is Australian’s leading sport with millions participating either competitively or recreationally each year. Elite swimmers can perform 2500 arm revolutions during a single session. These high repetitive loads which can place increased stress on our joints and soft tissue structures.

The most common type of injury related to swimmers is called ‘swimming shoulder’.  The shoulder is the predominant force producer during freestyle with 90% of propulsion provided by the muscles of the shoulder region.

Swimming shoulder is an umbrella term used to describe the many injuries that can occur with swimming. Due to the complex biomechanics of the shoulder joint, overuse injuries can easily arise. The prevalence of this condition is 35% in elite and senior level swimmers.


Poor technique

  • Crossing your midline
  • Reduced body roll
  • Pulling under the body
  • Elbows dropping on entry

Muscle imbalance

  • Reduced scapula control
  • Weakness in the rotator cuff
  • Reduced core strength

Restricted range of motion

  • Increase thoracic curvature
  • Restriction into shoulder internal rotation
  • Reduced neck range of motion

Rapid increase in training

  • Sudden spikes in swimming load can lead to a demand greater than what the muscles/joints are able to tolerate


Swimming screening allows us to identify the factors that are leading to an increase in injury risk. A screening will involve a whole body screen looking and the joints, muscles and movement’s that are relevant to a swimming stroke. Following a swimming screening, we can then prescribe an individualised exercise program that can prevent injuries and improve performance.


Your physiotherapist can provide hands-on treatment to improve flexibility of muscles and joints as well as create an individualised and specific exercise programme for strengthening.


  1. Manage your training load

  • Whether you are new to swimming or been in the pool your entire life, you always need to be careful with any increases in your training. Aim to increase your volume before you increase your intensity. Bullet proof your shoulder’s by giving them a nice base with your training.

  1. Ensure you maintain flexibility in your thoracic spine

  • Sitting all day leads to stiffness through our thoracic spine. Reduced range in this area is a big contributor of stress in the shoulder during freestyle. A few simple mobility exercises can be enough to make a large reduction to your shoulder pain.

  1. Film yourself swimming

  • A few little tweaks to your swimming stroke can make a huge difference to injury risk and performance. Get someone to film you swimming and bring it in for us to have a look!


  • Donald D. Davis; Morgan Nickerson; Matthew Varacallo. et al 2011
  • Brian Tovin et al 2006

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