In the past swimmers and coaches thought that some level of shoulder pain or even injury was normal in swimming and something that just had to be lived with. Fortunately with a modern understanding of bio-mechanics we now know that's not the case, with a good stroke technique any swimmer should be able to remain pain and injury free even when training very hard.
If you suffer from any shoulder pain or soreness during or after swimming, or even have a full blown shoulder injury, check your stroke for the four classic causes:
1. Thumb First Entry Into The Water
Entering thumb first with the palm facing outwards used to be taught as a smoother hand entry into the water but it internally rotates the shoulder placing a lot of stress on the joint. This is the most common cause of shoulder injury in swimming and should be avoided like the plague:
Instead of entering thumb first, enter fingertips first with the hand facing downwards, this keeps the shoulder neutral and sets you up perfectly for a great catch and pull through to follow.
2. Stroke Crossover
Crossing the centre line in front of the head places stress on the shoulder joint, the pain often being felt as impingement at the front of the shoulder or an over-stretched numb sensation at the back. Work on improving your posture and awareness of your lead hand (even when breathing) to remove this common stroke flaw:
A crossover combined with a thumb first hand entry is particularly stressful for the shoulder and a full injury surely lies in wait for any swimmer doing this.
3. Forceful Push Downwards During The Catch
This is a classic Arnie stroke flaw and involves pushing downwards powerfully on the water at full reach with a very straight arm:
This can feel deceptively like a good catch because of the feeling of water pressure on the palm of the hand but unfortunately it only lifts you up at the front and sinks your legs downwards. It also places a large stress on your shoulder joint which can easily lead to pain and inflammation. Work on developing your catch so you press the water backwards, not downwards and expect this to feel a lot less forceful.
4. Pulling Through With A Straight Arm (especially pulling wide or crossing the centre line under the body)
A straight pull through places a lot of load on the shoulder joint. Pulling wide tends to cause internal pain while crossing under the body with the arm over-stretches the outside and rear of the shoulder.
This can be quite hard to diagnose without video analysis but can be done by watching a swimmer carefully as they swim towards you at the end of the pool. Work on bending the elbow under the body bringing the hand directly under the shoulder, we call this 'Bending It Like Becky'.
If you suffer from any level of shoulder pain or injury from swimming there's almost certainly a flaw in your stroke technique causing the problem and you need to take immediate action to correct your stroke technique. Once developed a full blown shoulder injury is extremely frustrating and can take a long time to overcome - prevention is far better than cure when it comes to looking after your shoulders.