Swimmer Shoulder

By Lisa Thomson, DC
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portrait of a young swimmer going in for sports

What is it?

“Swimmer shoulder” is an umbrella term that is used to describe an injury to the shoulder due to frequent swimming.  As much as 90% of injuries in swimming are injuries that are in the shoulder.1  Shoulder pain from swimming is common in both males and females and on both the dominant and nondominant sides of the body. 

What are possible causes?

Repetition and overuse are thought to be the most common causes of Swimmer’s Shoulder but that might only be one piece of the puzzle.  If there are abnormal movement patterns, range of motion dysfunction(s) and/or strength deficiencies the chances of experiencing shoulder pain from swimming increase. Poor swimming techniques can lead to shoulder problems.  Trunk and core stability have been also shown to be important factors in reducing shoulder pain and injury in swimmers.  Like many overuse injuries, the painful site isn’t always the problem area. 

What are the common approaches for treatment? 

Swimmer’s shoulder is a condition that is often treated in different phases.  First, conservative treatments such as rest, ice, heat, NSAIDs and stretching might be most beneficial.  Once the athlete is ready and out of the acute pain phase, treatment options might include movement assessments, strength training, stretching exercises and manual therapy.  If after conservative treatment the pain persists, sometimes corticosteroid injections or surgery are recommended.  It is important to note however, that if improper biomechanics are causing dysfunction in the swimmer’s shoulder injections or surgery will likely not solve the problem.

Can it be helped through chiropractic, PT Acupuncture?

Swimmer’s shoulder can be helped with chiropractic, physical therapy and/or acupuncture.  However, not all chiropractors, PTs and acupuncturists have the same experience with treating these injuries.  Chiropractic, physical therapy and acupuncture have all proven to be safe and effective ways to treat pain.  If the shoulder injury is reoccurring it might be beneficial to see a practitioner who works with athletes and understands functional movement patterns.

Is it chronic?

Swimmer’s shoulder can become chronic if the root cause is not determined and fixed.  The body is a master compensator.  If there is movement and/or stability dysfunction, the body will find a way to make up for that dysfunction.  While that is helpful in some situations, it can also cause chronic issues if not addressed.

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  1. Weldon III, Edward J., and Allen B. Richardson. “Upper extremity overuse injuries in swimming: a discussion of swimmer’s shoulder.” Clinics in sports medicine 20.3 (2001): 423-438.
  2. Tovin, Brian J. “Prevention and treatment of swimmer’s shoulder.” North American journal of sports physical therapy: NAJSPT 1.4 (2006): 166.
  3. Heinlein, Scott A., and Andrew J. Cosgarea. “Biomechanical considerations in the competitive swimmer’s shoulder.” Sports health 2.6 (2010): 519-525.
  4. Bak, Klaus. “The practical management of swimmer’s painful shoulder: etiology, diagnosis, and treatment.” Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine 20.5 (2010): 386-390.
  5. Almeida, Gabriel Peixoto Leão, et al. “Swimmer’s shoulder in young athlete: Rehabilitation with emphasis on manual therapy and stabilization of shoulder complex.” Manual therapy 16.5 (2011): 510-515.
  6. Matzkin, Elizabeth, Kaytelin Suslavich, and David Wes. “Swimmer’s shoulder: painful shoulder in the competitive swimmer.” Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons 24.8 (2016): 527-536.