While swimming is comparatively a far lower impact sport than other land-based competitions, there is still the potential for sports injury. Whether you do a couple of laps of the pool to keep up your fitness or you train every day to swim competitively, it is important to be able to identify and effectively treat any injury you may sustain while swimming. “Swimmer’s shoulder” is a common umbrella term applied to shoulder pain experienced by swimmers, particularly more competitive swimmers who are relying on their shoulders for a significant amount of power over extended periods of time. As a shoulder specialist in Perth, Dr Jens Buelow works with many patients who have experienced shoulder pain or injury whilst swimming. Read on to find out about some of the more common injuries, their causes and how they can be treated.
Shoulder impingement is commonly referred to as ‘swimmer’s shoulder’, as it is a pain experienced most often by swimmers and other athletes whose sports require repetitive use – or overuse – of their shoulders. Incorrect technique can also cause this stress on the shoulder. Impingement occurs between the head of the humerus and the top of the shoulder blade, where the bursae and/or rotator cuff tendons become trapped and compressed during shoulder elevation – such as during a freestyle swimming stroke. If impingement persists and is left untreated, it may result in shoulder bursitis or more seriously, a rotator cuff tear.
Another common injury is shoulder bursitis, which is the technical term for inflammation of the shoulder bursae. The bursae are fluid-filled sacs near the joints in your shoulder that act like a cushion between the working parts of your shoulder. When the bursae become irritated or inflamed, the sac expands, reducing the space available for your muscles, bones and tendons to move and resulting in pain.
While you may assume that niggling pain in your shoulder when you swim will go away, it is important to note that over time, “swimmer’s shoulder” may progress to shoulder bursitis or to a rotator cuff tear. Rotator cuff tears can occur in two ways – either through significant trauma to the shoulder or via repeated microtrauma. Repeated microtrauma is the most common cause of tears, as this microtrauma over time will wear down the rotator cuff tendons and eventually weaken them enough to cause a tear. Swimmers are particularly at risk of rotator cuff tears due to the long-term overuse and degeneration of their muscles due to injury.
Tears in Cartilage Around Shoulder Socket
A cartilage tear can result in excruciating pain and injury; something that athletes are at a much greater risk of than other demographics. In the shoulder, the soft, rubbery cartilage that helps to keep the ball and socket joint intact is known as the labrum. The labrum attaches to other shoulder ligaments and the rotator cuff muscles & tendons to help maintain shoulder stability. When this cartilage is torn, the shoulder can become completely or partially dislocated. If a swimmer sustains a tear in the shoulder cartilage, shoulder surgery is generally the only option for repair. In this case, swimmers can expect to spend at least four to six months of physiotherapy and recovery post-surgery.
To effectively treat your swimmer’s shoulder, your shoulder specialist may suggest having a shoulder arthroscopy to take a closer look at the issue. As part of this procedure, a shoulder specialist like Dr Buelow will insert an arthroscope (thin, fibre-optic telescope) into the shoulder joint to get a better view of the joint. From there, Dr Buelow can undertake a number of treatments on your shoulder, from treating arthritis removing inflamed joint membranes.
If you are experiencing regular shoulder pain or have a long-standing shoulder injury that needs attention, it is important to find a shoulder specialist in Perth who can diagnose the injury and present the options for your treatment. Dr Jens Buelow is a shoulder specialist in Perth with extensive experience and knowledge in shoulder pain, treatment and surgery. Make your health a priority and get back to doing what you love. Contact Dr Jens Buelow’s office today on (08) 9212 4200 to book a consultation.