Swimmers can prevent injuries by improving biomechanics and strengthening core

January 24, 2013

Topic: orthopaedic pain

Swimmers can prevent injuries by improving biomechanics and strengthening core

Although swimmers have a very low likelihood of enduring contact injuries or orthopaedic pain in their joints, they still have to be cautious of overusing their muscles. John Mullen, a physical therapist and swim coach, spoke with Swimming World Magazine about exercises and proper injury prevention techniques that swimmers can regularly perform to avoid mishaps.

In particular, swimmers are prone to shoulder and lower back injuries, and they tend to occur due to incorrect training techniques, excessive training volume or poor biomechanics. To keep muscles safe, athletes should work on improving their biomechanics, especially stroke technique. This will also help propel them forward in the water, allowing them to swim faster.

Injury prevention starts outside the water
Mullen also discussed how swimmers can prevent injuries outside of the water. For instance, if an athlete experiences soreness or muscle tension from a particularly difficult workout, he or she should restore and relax the muscle on land. Releasing any tension is crucial, as soreness may cause an athlete to move differently. This is when injuries are most likely to occur.

Some training programs routinely require pre-workout sessions to activate the muscles before getting in the pool. This is an opportunity for swimmers to do some low-volume exercises that isolate and work specific muscles. Mullen recommended that coaches only do one or two of these, or else they risk fatiguing muscles before the swimming part of practice even begins. Ideally, this portion of the workout should only take five to 10 minutes, as the majority of the warm-up process should take place in the water.

If athletes experience soreness in a specific spot, one thing that they can do is position a tennis ball beneath the muscle and place pressure on it by rolling the ball back and forth for one to five minutes. This action works to release tension.

A strong core is key
The most important injury prevention tip that Mullen provided was to strengthen core stability. He suggested that swimmers perform a marching exercise, which helps improve their streamline position. While lying on their backs, athletes can do this by placing their hands beneath their lower back, squeezing their abs and slowly bringing one knee to their chest, followed by the other and finally lowering them back down one at a time.

Doing exercises like this is much more important than weightlifting. In fact, Mullen explained that muscle strength does not necessarily lead to speed. Swimmers should master basic pull ups, push ups and squats before adding weights.

Thousands affected every year
In 2009, almost 203,600 swimming-related injuries were assessed and treated in emergency departments, doctors' offices and health clinics, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The most common mishap, in general, is shoulder pain due to the repetitive motion of taking strokes in the water. This can be avoided by properly warming up and stretching. 

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