Thursday, June 14, 2012

5 Uncommon Swimming Flaws Causing Shoulder Pain

We would like everyone to welcome our newest guest blogger, the SwimSci guy, G. John Mullen.  You can read about him on our Guest Blogger page.  He is a highly educated and established writer with credentials that might make you wonder why he wants to be associated with a blog where we write stuff about peeing in the pool and smoking to improve athletic performance. For once, you might actually get smarter when you visit our site now that he is here.  We hope you enjoy him around as an addition to the diverse offerings at The Swim Brief.   -Viking!

Everyone knows swimming puts your shoulder at risk for injury. To prevent this every coaches have bought as much elastic tubing as they can get their hands on and have had their athletes perform the most boring exercises until they have a Triple H (Hernia, Hemorrhage, Hemorrhoid, not the storied actor Paul Michael Levesque). Despite this heroin addict volume of elastic tubing, the shoulder injury rate is stagnant!

The two main areas to address for shoulder pain are biomechanics in the water and prevention/rehabilitation exercises out of the water. Coaches, swimmers, and any swim nerd wanting to demonstrate their impressive medial temporal lobe must know the essentials about shoulder injury prevention to enhance the sport.

Swimming Prevention
Now I know what you're thinking, another boring, obvious post on shoulder pain and I agree, which swim nerd doesn't already know 1) don't cross-over during your catch 2) don't lift you head when you breathe? These swim prevention tips may help beginners, but doesn't solve all shoulder problems. High caliber swimmers require a little more neuronal activity for the solution. Here are 5 unusual in the water flaws causing your shoulder pain:
  1. Kick Board: Clearly a kick board increases stress on the shoulder, especially with lazy swimmers. Often times a swimmer lies on the board like a Murphy pull-out couch on a training trip and forces the shoulder into end range of motion. This causes excessive stress on the joint, in fact an unnecessary stress as kicking allows swimmers with a weak core to cheat, read more here.
  2. Thumb First Entry: I know what you're thinking, this is an obvious one, but the thumb first entry is a debatable topic. First a thumb first allows a smaller point of entry and likely less drag. However, this thumb first entry (when performed at the shoulder or glenohumeral joint) is similar to a provocative test entitled the empty can and stresses the supraspinatus tendon. However, it is feasible to do a thumb first entry by only moving at the forearm allowing a happy and free rotator cuff tendon, read about the difference here.
  3. Hanging on the Wall: When there are 20 people in your lane, deciding how to rest on the wall isn't always in your control, but hanging on the wall on one side causes shoulder elevation and compression, a compromising position. If possible, have your swimmer’s face the wall and hold on like a backstroke start or use the uninvolved arm on the wall. At least have them switch arms for balance.
  4. Breaststroke Outsweep: Everyone thinks breast is the least stressful stroke for the shoulder, but many swimmers have shoulder pain only during breast. This is because it involves different shoulder stress than the other strokes. When a swimmer has difficulties with the breast, it is typically during the outsweep when the shoulders are internally rotated and their head is in cervical extension. This causes strain to the shoulder joint, specifically the labrum.
  5. Backstroke Catch: Excessive anterior stress occurs if shoulder stabilization doesn't accompany this movement. Shoulder blade stability is necessary to hold the stable. Backstroke puts a lot of anterior stress on the shoulder, leading to an increased risk for injury. Cue the athletes to lock their shoulder blade during the catch, and then move. Stable shoulder blade, mobile arms!
These are only a few on the uncommon flaws potentially causing shoulder pain. Make sure your athletes are safe and stable, in and out of the water. The out of the water program must focus on improving muscle tissue quality, shoulder blade stability, and rotator cuff endurance.

By G. John Mullen founder of the Center of Optimal Restoration, head strength coach at Santa Clara Swim Club, and creator the Swimmer's Shoulder System and the Swimming Science Research Review.


  1. You tink you can class up dis joint with some smaht gahy, Viking?

  2. It does help to balance us out. When you see which guest blogger plans to post next, you will understand why we needed more stuff from the smart guy side of the spectrum. :)

  3. I have a question about your recommendation #5. What does a swimmer do to "lock the shoulder blade"? I understand what it means to lock your knee or your elbow, but I'm not sure what muscles are involved or in which direction the shoulder blade is moved to lock it.

  4. compact position=locking shoulder blade.

    Let me know if this doesn't help:

  5. Great post! Informative and very helpful to those who are fond of swimming. Thanks for a share!

  6. Many people think that rest is the taking rest is the solution for shoulder pain but, it is not true always as if you did not take proper treatment in the early stage then it can become a problem for you. Many people try stretching to get relief but it is essential that you should consult an expert physiotherapist who can suggest you the right treatment and exercise for pain relief in your shoulders from swimming. If you do proper exercise then it will be easy for you to bring back the flexibility that you might be losing by not exercising the muscle joint at all.
    physio in Dublin