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Swimmers Shoulder - A Pain in the Cuff!

Easter time is almost upon us which for many is about catching up with family, indulging in chocolate and having a well earned break - but for others it also means bigger and better waves! Those that are brave enough to tackle the brain chilling Victorian waters are rewarded by conditions good enough for the surfers at the Ripcurl Pro.

Following the Easter break I often see an influx of clients with shoulder pain, with the common theme being a sudden increase in surfing. In the following blog I will be discussing a frustrating condition commonly experienced by watermen and women called Swimmers shoulder, and give you the tools and knowledge needed to prevent and manage your pain.


So, what exactly is it??

Swimmers shoulder is basically an overuse injury caused by repetitive swimming or paddling action, leading to shoulder pain. There can be a variety of things going wrong within your shoulder and it is up to your physio to determine what structures are being affected, and why it is happening. Swimmers shoulder can include:

  • Rotator cuff impingement, tears or tendonitis

  • Capsular, cartilage or ligament damage

  • Bursitis


How does it happen??

Your shoulder is a the most mobile joint in your body. Because it is so free moving, it requires great control by the muscles and ligaments that surround it. When these muscles aren’t operating in a smooth and synchronised fashion, structures within your shoulder can be stretched, pinched, irritated, or torn. This leads to pain, limited movement or weakness associated with swimmers shoulder.

Over-training, fatigue, hypermobility, poor stroke technique, muscle imbalances, tightness or previous shoulder injury can lead to your shoulder structures being overworked and damaged, limiting your ability to train or compete to your full capacity.


What are the sign & symptoms??

Swimmers shoulder can present as pain in the side, front or back of your shoulder. It is aggravated by repetitive action of the arm (such as swimming strokes), and will be painful during exercise and possibly for a while after stopping. Other symptoms include:

  • Difficulty lifting objects

  • Feeling of dead arm

  • Ache in the arm or shoulder at night

  • Inability to lie on the affected shoulder

  • Difficulty and pain reaching behind your back

  • Neck pain

  • Headaches


How is it treated??

Everyone is different, which is why each person needs a targeted treatment plan. Assessment by a physiotherapist can determine your individual causative factors and tailor a management plan that best fits you.

Treatments can include:

  • Technique correction

  • Program and workload adjustment

  • Strengthening exercises for weak muscles

  • Stretching exercises for tight & shortened muscles

  • Manual therapy (massage, trigger point therapy, dry needling) of tight muscles


So if you are pulling up unexpectedly sore from aquatic activities, or are having issues getting through a your training program, come into the clinic for an assessment and we will help get you back to being active and enjoying life!


Oliver Butler Physiotherapist Marna Physio

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