Monday, January 2, 2012

Swimming Basics

In swimming, the adage "no pain, no gain" does not apply to your shoulders. The minute you feel a twinge of discomfort when you raise your arms above your head, assess the cause. Continuing with the status quo in your routine can result in rotator cuff injuries that might eventually require medical intervention.
Your rotator cuff consists of a group of muscles and tendons that support your shoulder joint and link your upper arm to your shoulder blade. When the muscles suffer from injury or overuse, they weaken. Lacking sufficient support, tendons bear the brunt of holding your joint in place. When those tendons stretch or fail, you get joint instability and pain. Muscle tears, tendon strains or inflammation or damage to the cartilage insulating the joint socket all contribute to rotator cuff problems, according to the Merck Manuals.
As a swimmer, you rely heavily on your shoulders for propulsion. The continued wear and tear from thousands of repeated stroke movements over the years make rotator cuff problems common -- so common that swimmers call the condition "swimmer's shoulder." Bad technique increases your risk for rotator cuff injury, so in addition to consulting your doctor, turn to an experienced swim coach for stroke analysis, USA Swimming says.
You usually feel pain when you lift your hand above your head if you have rotator cuff problems. Symptoms can also include shoulder tenderness when you lie on it or reach out your arm in front or in back. You might also experience weakness in your affected shoulder and lose your usual range of motion. When you experience symptoms, you might feel like swimming past the pain, but taking a few days off from any activity is wise. If you can't go a day without being in the pool, do kicking exercises instead of swimming.
You must strengthen and balance the muscles that stabilize your shoulder joint to prevent "swimmer's shoulder." The external rotator muscles can shorten and contract due to the exaggerated use of the internal rotators in swimming. Talk with a fitness expert about exercises that can stretch out and build the external rotator muscles. Your abdominal core muscles also contribute to shoulder stability, as do the muscles surrounding your shoulder blades and supporting your upper back. Apart from strength and stability workouts, you should follow your swim coach's advice about your stroke mechanics, USA Swimming says. She will watch you swim and adjust the minor flaws that could cause you major problems in the future.

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