Moment for Health: Swimming Injuries

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The sun had yet to rise over the horizon presenting the world with the anticipation of another summer day.

The water lay still, waiting for the birds to sing forth vibrations into the cool crisp air so its liquid blanket might begin to absorb their sounds.

A slight steam rose off the surface as toes slowly gripped the curve of the tile. With the grace of a bird swooping into a tree, the swimmer launched into air and dove sweetly into the pool’s silky water.

For a moment the swimmer kept beneath the surface, the muffled silence a welcomed friend as the water enveloped every square inch of goose-bumps on the skin.

Breaking the bed of watery stillness with a gulp of air, a cherished ritual began as rhythm took over and the addictive cadence of body against water began.

Beauty and grace regulates this nearly perfect form of exercise. A less aggressive way to initiate the body into shape, buoyancy levels out the playing field for any potential injuries, keeping the majority of limbs in positive motion.

Yet there are three areas that swimmers or those thinking about starting up swimming, need to take in consideration.

Dr. Joseph Horrigan, Director of the Soft Tissue Center at DISC Sports & Spine Center with locations in Newport Beach, Marina del Rey and Beverly Hills, relates how the top three most common swimming injuries are “swimmer’s shoulder,” meniscus tears and low-back strain.

“Swimmer’s shoulder is medically known as subacromial impingement,” Dr. Horrigan explained. “The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint with a bony roof over the joint. In simple terms this impingement, or pinching, occurs between the ball of the shoulder and the roof of the shoulder.”

Freestyle or butterfly stroke work the shoulders in this manner and Dr. Horrigan warns that tendons and the fluid-filled sac called the bursa can become inflamed and painful when it is squeezed due to the repetitive movements these strokes incur.

The position of internal rotation when the hand(s) enter the water thumb first causes the shoulder to elevate and pinch the tendons repeatedly.

He goes on to state that knee injuries occur most commonly during breast stroke kicks, those frog-like motion made with the legs.

“This unique ‘frog kick’ can stress and strain the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and can pinch and tear the C-shaped cartilage in the knee known as the meniscus.”

Another potential strain can occur when brought on by the more aggressive butterfly stroke’s dolphin kick. It requires rapid bending and extending of the low back where joints in the spine can become aggravated or existing injuries could become inflamed. What does Dr. Horrigan suggest to keep swimming a healthy sport?


Acclimate: Allow yourself the opportunity to adapt to the amount of swimming you perform regularly. If you take on too much of anything before becoming acclimated to the activity and workload, you risk overuse injuries.

Know Your Limits: Every exercise is not for all people at all times. If you have injuries in the shoulder, knee or back, certain range of motions are limited and may be too uncomfortable. For instance those with acute low back pain might be better off walking in a pool to build up strength. The buoyancy of the pool can help with movement and provides good exercise for those starting in a de-conditioned state, unable to walk normally without discomfort. Be sure to wear heavy socks or Aqua Socks to protect the bottom of the feet if walking a lot in the pool.

Consult Your Doctor: If you have not exercised in years and have decided to use swimming as a new form of exercise for overall health, stress management or weight loss make sure to see the family physician for a physical examination before embarking on a rigorous swimming program.

Contact Gina at [email protected].

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