All swimmers at one time or another have gotten out of the pool after a long grueling race, or after the week of Christmas training with a throbbing or stabbing pain in their shoulder. College swimmers can seek attention from their Certified Athletic Trainer on campus, but many club swimmers shake it off and push through the pain. Pain is the body’s way of telling you there is something wrong. Most swimmers know what soreness feels like, but when that soreness turns into a throbbing aching, or stabbing pain, then it would be wise to seek attention. As my Athletic Trainer at Limestone says, “Preventative medicine is the best medicine.”
Today, we will focus on four of the most commonly injured muscles in the shoulder and what you can do to help strengthen and stabalize you shoulder and prevent injury.
What is the Rotator Cuff?
The Rotator Cuff is made up of 4 muscles: Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor, and Subscapularis. The muscles account for a majority of the actions that take place during the swimming stroke. All four of these muscles start from your shoulderblade and attach on the head of your humerus, or arm. The control shoulder abduction (moving away from the body), external rotation (holding your elbow in at the side with your elbow bent, moving your hand away from the body), and internal rotation (same position as external rotation, but moving hand towards the body). These are three very important movements to every stroke.
How do I strengthen it?
There are many great exercise to strengthen these muscle groups, but the best overall rotator cuff exercises are all included in the Jobe Shoulder Exercises. This program was originally created by Dr. Frank Jobe, the orthopedic surgeon behing the Tommy John Surgery (a common baseball injury), but has been expanded upon to include the entire shoulder and can apply to most overhead athletes, including swimmer. This program will also strengthen your Deltoid (the muscle that rounds your shoulder on top) and your Rhomboids (muscles between the shoulderblades) as well. There are 13 Jobe Exercises and a pdf of those exercises can be found here. These exercises should be performed 3 times a week for maximum benefit.
What can I do when it hurts?
The best way to treat is RICE. RICE stands for: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. While no serious athlete wants to rest, using the other three principles can assist in the healing process and get you back out in the pool in less time. Stretching of the entire shoulder joint as well will help keep those muscles free of knots and help in your recovery as well.
When is it time to see a doctor?
This is one of the toughest questions to answer as each person will see pain in a different light. Athletes should seek out assistance from a Certified Athletic Trainer, Physical Therapist, or Orthopedic Physician when one of these three things occurs.
1. Your range of motion begins to decrease and is causing you to modify your stroke.
2. Your pain gets to the point where you have to modify your stroke to reduce the pain.
3. You have a uneasy feeling of your arm feeling like it’s going to slide out.
Modifying your stroke in anyway, unless instructed by your coach, usually means that it is time to seek assistance as something is affecting your shoulder in such a way that it can’t do what you want it to.
Hopefully this will get you started on your way to taking care of your shoulders. If you have any questions about this or any other injury prevention/treatment, feel free to write me at [email protected]