Cases of swimmer’s shoulder can lead to limited shoulder movement and cause pain or discomfort swimming or exercising. Prompt diagnosis is the first step toward a speedy and healthy recovery. Learn more about this condition and how to fix swimmer’s shoulder.
What Is Swimmer’s Shoulder?
Swimmer’s shoulder is a rotator cuff overuse injury caused by the swelling and inflammation of tendons connecting muscles to bones. The inflamed or irritated tendons can press on nearby muscles and bones, causing discomfort. Contrary to its name, swimmer’s shoulder is not exclusive to pro swimmers. It’s prevalent in recreational swimmers and athletes who repeatedly rotate their shoulders, like baseball, softball, tennis and volleyball players. It can also be present in those with jobs that require prolonged arm movement, like construction workers and painters.
What Causes Swimmer’s Shoulder?
Your shoulder is made up of a ball and socket joint. The ball at the end of the humerus connects to the shoulder socket in the shoulder blade. A group of tendons referred to as the rotator cuff holds the humerus in place. These tendons cover the ball of the humerus and allow it to rotate in place freely.
Impingement refers to the pinching of muscles or tendons as they rub against each other due to repeated movements. Strain from repeated overhead shoulder movements can cause inflammation in the shoulder tendons, and then the bones of the shoulder socket and humerus can impinge on your shoulder tendons. This impingement is commonly called swimmer’s shoulder.
Swimmer’s shoulder can arise as a result of repetitive shoulder movements such as:
- Swimming strokes
- Lifting weights
- Throwing a baseball or softball
- Swinging a tennis racket
- Spiking or serving a volleyball
Other factors like poor technique or posture, previous shoulder injuries, bone abnormalities and over-exertion can increase the risk of swimmer’s shoulder. If left untreated, swimmer’s shoulder can lead to a rotator cuff tear.
Swimmer’s Shoulder Symptoms
Common symptoms of swimmer’s shoulder include:
- Shoulder pain and discomfort
- Swelling of the shoulder
- Limited range of motion in the shoulder, like difficulty reaching overhead or behind yourself
- Stiffness or fatigue of shoulder muscles
Symptoms of swimmer’s shoulder can disrupt your ability to perform daily activities. Symptoms and signs of swimmer’s shoulder are increasingly present while performing repeated arm rotations. Activities requiring rotational shoulder movements like swimming, lifting, crawling or swinging your arms cause your bones to pinch the tendons that make up your shoulder, causing shoulder pain.
Here are a few ways you can prevent swimmer’s shoulder.
1. Always Stretch or Warm up
Warming up before performing any physical activity is vital. Proper stretching ensures your muscles aren’t stiff. Muscle stiffness can limit your range of motion, which can cause discomfort during strenuous exercise. Warm-ups and arm and shoulder stretches can decrease your risk of developing a swimmer’s shoulder or other related injuries.
Consider trying these stretches and exercises to reduce the risk of swimmer’s shoulder:
- Cross arm stretch
- Thread the needle
- Child’s pose
- Behind back lock stretch
2. Give Your Body a Rest
Your body needs time to heal. With any physical activity, your body needs to repair itself, so rest periods are necessary. If your schedule does not allow for rest days at regular intervals, consider modifying your work or training routine to avoid activities that put stress on your shoulders. Though it isn’t a rest day, you can at least give the tendons and muscles in your shoulder a break.
3. Watch Your Posture
Improper posture can hinder the full mobility of your arm and cause unnecessary strain on your shoulder joint and muscles during physical activity. Especially for swimmers, correct upper body posture ensures a full range of motion in the arms and shoulders.
Swimmer’s Shoulder Diagnosis
When you visit your doctor, they will discuss your symptoms and conduct a thorough physical examination of your shoulder to determine the severity of your condition. They’ll assess your level of discomfort and your shoulder’s current range of motion. Often, your doctor may recommend an X-ray or MRI to confirm your diagnosis.
Swimmer’s Shoulder Treatment
Treatments and the recovery time for swimmer’s shoulder depend on the severity of the condition. Most cases of swimmer’s shoulder can be treated with simple, non-invasive treatments.
1. At-Home Remedies
Here are two home remedies you can try for treating swimmer’s shoulder:
- Ice: Icing your affected shoulder directly after swimming or working out for 20 minutes will help reduce muscle inflammation.
- Rest: Resting is key to helping your shoulder heal. Depending on the extent of your injury, your physicians may recommend refraining from exercise for a short period to allow ample time for the shoulder muscles to begin healing. Then, based on recommendations from your physician, you can exercise in a limited capacity.
2. Professional Assistance
Some cases of swimmer’s shoulder can require more than ice and rest. When you seek professional medical assistance, your physician might recommend the following treatments:
- Anti-inflammatory medication: Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to reduce shoulder tendon inflammation. You may need to take this medication for a few days after the injury.
- Steroid injections: Your doctor may recommend steroid injections if your swimmer’s shoulder pain is severe. Steroid injections temporarily relieve pain in the shoulder and reduce inflammation.
- Physical therapy: Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to facilitate a speedy and healthy recovery from swimmer’s shoulder. With a physical therapist, you’ll learn shoulder-strengthening exercises and stretches for swimmer’s shoulder, which will improve your shoulder’s range of motion and increase flexibility. Your physical therapist will provide the necessary knowledge and tools to prevent future injuries.
- Surgery: Your doctor may suggest surgery for your simmer’s shoulder if the previous treatments show no signs of alleviating your discomfort. In these cases, surgeons can use minimally invasive strategies to locate and remove inflamed tissue in and around the shoulder. Most issues can be resolved without surgery when diagnosed and treated at the first signs of pain and swelling.
Overall, the recovery time for swimmer’s shoulder depends on the individual. In most cases, a full recovery from swimmer’s shoulder can take three to six months, while more severe cases can take up to a year. Whatever the case, your physicians will help you choose the right treatment option and help get you back to a full range of motion.
Request an Appointment With Our Physicians
If you’re dealing with the pain and discomfort of swimmer’s shoulder, don’t wait. When you visit the Hand Center of Louisiana, you put yourself in the care of highly-trained physicians dedicated to understanding your needs and providing comprehensive treatment options.Request an appointment today.