Swimming and Shoulder Pain: Understanding and Managing the Swimmer’s Shoulder

Swimming and Shoulder Pain: Understanding and Managing the Swimmer's Shoulder

Swimming, often praised for its low-impact benefits, is a favored sport and recreational activity for many. It offers a comprehensive workout, engaging muscles across the body, especially those in the shoulder region. However, like any other sport, improper technique, overuse, or lack of conditioning can lead to injuries. One of the most common ailments faced by swimmers is the ‘swimmer’s shoulder’, a generic term used to describe swimmer shoulder pain. This blog aims to shed light on the causes, prevention techniques, and management of swimming-related shoulder pain, ensuring that every dip in the pool remains a pleasure, not a pain.

Can Swimming Cause Shoulder Pain?

Can Swimming Cause Shoulder Pain?Yes, swimming can cause shoulder pain, especially in those who swim frequently or competitively. The repetitive nature of the strokes, combined with the resistance provided by the water, can place significant stress on the shoulder muscles and joints. Here’s a deeper look into why and how swimming can lead to shoulder pain:

  • Repetitive Motion

Swimmers often complete thousands of strokes in a single session, especially during intense training. This repetitive motion can lead to overuse injuries, particularly if there’s a lapse in proper form or technique.

  • Rotator Cuff Strain

The rotator cuff, a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint, is heavily involved in swimming motions. Overuse or improper technique can lead to strains or tears in these muscles and tendons.

  • Improper Technique

An inefficient stroke technique not only decreases performance but also increases the risk of injury. Faulty mechanics can put undue stress on the shoulder, leading to pain.

  • Muscular Imbalances

Swimmers often develop strong muscles at the front of the shoulder due to the primary swimming strokes. If the muscles at the back of the shoulder aren’t equally strengthened, it can lead to an imbalance, increasing the risk of injury.

  • Lack of Rest and Recovery

Like any sport, the body needs time to recover after intense swimming sessions. Without adequate rest, micro-injuries can accumulate, leading to chronic pain and more severe injuries.

  • Previous Injuries

A swimmer who has had a previous shoulder injury or any injury that affects the biomechanics of swimming might be more susceptible to developing shoulder pain.

Prevention is crucial. Regular strengthening exercises for the shoulder, maintaining flexibility, focusing on proper technique, and ensuring adequate rest can all help prevent swimming-related shoulder pain. If someone does experience pain, it’s essential to address it early on to prevent chronic issues and more severe injuries.

How To Differentiate Swimming Shoulder Pain From Others?

How To Differentiate Swimming Shoulder Pain From Others?Differentiating swimming shoulder pain from other types of shoulder pain can sometimes be challenging. However, there are certain factors, patterns, and historical details that can help distinguish swimming-related shoulder pain from other sources. Here’s how to differentiate them:

1. History of Swimming

One of the most telling signs is the person’s activity. If they’re actively engaged in swimming, especially with high intensity or frequency, there’s a higher likelihood the shoulder pain is related to the sport.

2. Onset Pattern

Swimming shoulder pain often starts gradually and may worsen over time with continued swimming activity. It might be more noticeable during or after intense swimming sessions. In contrast, sudden shoulder pain after an acute incident, like a fall, might indicate trauma-related injury like a fracture or dislocation.

3. Nature of Pain

Swimming-related shoulder pain is often described as a dull ache or discomfort, particularly during overhead activities or specific stroke phases. Sharp or stabbing pain, especially at rest, might suggest other issues, like an acute injury or infection.

4. Location of Pain

Swimmer’s shoulder often affects the anterior (front) and lateral (side) aspects of the shoulder. The pain can sometimes radiate down the arm. Pain primarily in the back of the shoulder or deep within the joint may indicate a different cause.

5. Aggravating Movements

If certain swimming strokes or movements exacerbate the pain, it can be a clue. For example, the catch phase of freestyle might aggravate a swimmer’s shoulder due to the emphasis on anterior deltoid and rotator cuff engagement.

6. Associated Symptoms

Swimmer’s shoulder might also be accompanied by stiffness, a limited range of motion, or a feeling of “clicking” or “catching” in the shoulder during strokes.

7. Physical Examination

Specific tests conducted by healthcare professionals can replicate the pain associated with certain shoulder conditions. For instance, impingement tests might elicit pain in the swimmer’s shoulder, whereas other maneuvers might pinpoint labral tears or other pathologies.

8. Imaging

While imaging like X-rays, MRI, or ultrasound might not differentiate swimming shoulder pain directly, they can rule out other structural causes or injuries. That might look different from overuse or strain injuries common in swimmers.

If someone experiences persistent shoulder pain, consulting a healthcare professional is crucial. They can provide a comprehensive evaluation and correct diagnosis, ensuring the right treatment approach.

How Do You Fix Shoulder Pain From Swimming?

Addressing swimmer shoulder pain requires a multifaceted approach that includes rest, physical therapy, modifications in training, and sometimes medical intervention. Here’s a step-by-step approach to help alleviate and prevent the recurrence of swimming-induced shoulder pain:

Immediate Response

Immediately after noticing shoulder pain related to swimming, it’s essential to adopt a protective approach. This involves resting the affected shoulder to prevent further irritation or damage. Overactivity can exacerbate the condition, turning what might be a minor strain into a more chronic issue. The application of ice during the initial phases (typically the first 48 hours) helps minimize inflammation, which is a primary cause of pain and can slow down the healing process.

Physical Therapy

Engaging in physical therapy can be a game-changer for swimmers with shoulder pain. A physical therapist will tailor a program to target the specific muscles around the shoulder, particularly the rotator cuff and the muscles that stabilize the scapula. These exercises aim to restore strength, balance, and coordination, ensuring that the shoulder can withstand the demands of swimming. In addition to strength exercises, a comprehensive therapy program will include stretching to improve flexibility and address any muscle imbalances. Manual therapies, like targeted massage, can break down scar tissue, improve blood flow, and aid in faster recovery.

Training Modifications

Adapting your training can be instrumental in both recovery and preventing future episodes of shoulder pain. By alternating between different swimming strokes, you distribute the workload across various muscle groups, thereby reducing the repetitive strain on a specific set of muscles. Moreover, periodizing your training, where you intentionally vary the intensity of your sessions, can be beneficial. For instance, incorporating recovery or low-intensity days gives your muscles, especially the overworked ones, a chance to repair and strengthen.


While swimming is a fantastic full-body workout, diversifying your training regimen by including other forms of exercise can be highly beneficial. Cross-training, like cycling or running, allows you to maintain or even enhance cardiovascular fitness while giving the shoulder a relative rest. This approach ensures that you’re not overworking the shoulder continuously. Additionally, it strengthens other muscle groups that can support and complement the demands of swimming.

Monitor Equipment

Monitor EquipmentThe equipment you use, both in and out of the pool, can influence your posture, alignment, and consequently, shoulder strain. For example, overly tight goggles or caps might force you to alter your neck or head position, indirectly affecting your shoulder mechanics. Similarly, swimsuits that restrict movement can change your natural swimming motion. It’s crucial to choose equipment that fits correctly and comfortably, allowing for optimal movement and alignment.

Stay Hydrated and Maintain Nutrition

Hydration and nutrition play a pivotal role in muscle function and recovery. Being well-hydrated ensures optimal muscle function and reduces the risk of cramps or strains. Additionally, the right nutrition provides the necessary building blocks for muscle repair and growth. Including a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals in your diet can expedite recovery and improve overall performance.

Seek Medical Attention

Persistent or worsening pain is a clear sign that you should consult a healthcare professional. While some minor pains might resolve with rest and home remedies, others could be indicative of more severe underlying issues. Professionals can offer a precise diagnosis, potentially through imaging tests, and guide the best course of action. They can also provide referrals to specialists or therapists as needed.

Returning to swimming post-recovery should be gradual, and it’s essential to continue preventive exercises and be vigilant about proper technique. This approach will help reduce the risk of future shoulder issues.

How To Swim Safely?

How To Swim Safely?Swimming is an excellent form of exercise and recreation, but to ensure that it remains a safe and enjoyable experience, it’s important to observe specific precautions and guidelines. Here are some essential tips to swim safely:

Know Your Abilities

  • Self-Assessment: Before diving in, assess your swimming skills honestly. If you’re not a strong swimmer or are unfamiliar with a particular body of water, take extra precautions.
  • Swimming Lessons: For beginners or those looking to improve their skills, consider taking lessons from certified instructors.

Swim in Designated Areas

  • Always swim in areas marked safe for swimming, especially in natural bodies of water. These areas are typically free from dangerous undercurrents and potential hazards.
  • At the beach, be aware of posted signs indicating the presence of strong currents, jellyfish, or other potential dangers.

Never Swim Alone

  • Use the buddy system. Swimming with a friend ensures that someone can call for help or assistance if something goes wrong.
  • This is especially true in open water environments like oceans, lakes, or rivers.

Be Aware of Water Conditions

  • In oceans and lakes, pay attention to tide and current reports. Some currents, like rip currents, can quickly pull swimmers out to deeper water.
  • In pools, be aware of wet surfaces that might be slippery, increasing the risk of falls.

Use Safety Gear When Appropriate

  • In open waters or when doing water sports, consider wearing life jackets or flotation devices, especially if you’re not a strong swimmer or if conditions are rough.
  • Goggles can help improve underwater visibility and protect your eyes from chlorine in pools or salt in the sea.

Understand Pool Rules

  • Every pool, whether public or private, likely has a set of rules. These might include no diving in shallow areas, no running around the pool, or specific lap swim hours.
  • Abiding by these rules ensures everyone’s safety.

Stay Hydrated

Even though you’re surrounded by water, swimming is strenuous, and you can get dehydrated. Drink plenty of water before and after your swim.

Warm-Up and Stretch

Just like any other exercise, it’s essential to warm up your muscles before an intense swim. A quick warm-up swim followed by some stretching can prevent injuries.

Swimming is a fantastic way to relax, enjoy, and stay fit. By observing these safety guidelines, you can ensure that it remains a positive experience each time you plunge into the water.


Swimming offers a unique blend of recreation, relaxation, and rigorous exercise, making it a beloved activity for many. However, to truly enjoy its benefits, safety must remain at the forefront of our aquatic endeavors. Whether you’re taking a leisurely dip in a local pool, practicing for a competitive event, or exploring the vastness of open waters, adhering to essential safety guidelines ensures your well-being. If you’re experiencing Shoulder pain, physical therapy for shoulder pain at PhysioMantra can help: Book an online physical therapy session.