Swimming is supposed to be a great low-impact activity for people with joint pain. But what if that joint is your shoulder? Can you still swim?
That depends. The first thing you need to do is stop swimming and see your doctor. Too often people try to “play through” the pain, which only makes the injury worse. Don’t make that mistake.
Through an interview, examination, and tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), your doctor can pinpoint the problem and give you a prognosis and treatment plan. A wide range of issues can cause shoulder pain, from tendinitis to a torn rotator cuff to arthritis.
It will often be possible to return to swimming, but before you go back in the water, you should work with a physical therapist. Your therapist can prescribe exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff and stabilize the shoulder blades. The therapist may also work with you on your overall posture. Poor posture outside the water can affect your swimming stroke.
In addition to a physical therapist, consider working with a swim coach, who can critique your technique to see if there are improvements you can make to avoid stressing your shoulder.
Swim Smooth has some great tips for shoulder-friendly swimming techniques. For instance, as you’re pulling through the water, don’t put your hands in thumb first. Instead, pull with a flat hand, using your fingertips first. Also, using bilateral breathing, to develop a symmetrical body rotation and avoid a flat body position, can help prevent shoulder injuries.
Other tips that can help you get back in the swim of things:
- Vary your strokes so that you’re not putting the same stress on the joint with each lap. The breaststroke or sidestroke can be good alternatives to freestyle or back stroke for people with shoulder issues.
- Spend time on kicking exercises to give your upper body a rest.
- Don’t swim every day. Alternate swim days with other activities like walking or yoga.
- Try a water aerobics class to get a low-impact water workout without traditional swim strokes. Be sure to ask your instructor how you can modify any activities that strain your shoulder.
- Use an AquaJogger belt to “run” in the water instead of swimming.
The medical professionals at Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists can diagnose your shoulder problem and work with you to get back to enjoying the activities you love.
Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists is located in Scottsdale and Phoenix, Arizona and have convenient onsite services including physical therapy and imaging. For more information, make an appointment by calling the Scottsdale office at 602-493-9361 or the Phoenix office at 602-863-2040
The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or in any other educational medical material.