Health Q&A: swimming and shoulder pain

Dr Mark Porter / 11 July 2019

Dr Mark Porter addresses a reader’s query about shoulder pain that may be caused by swimming.

Q: Since taking up swimming to get fit, I have developed a sore right shoulder. It is now painful to brush my hair or lift anything heavy. I do a slow front crawl. Should I change stroke?

A: Your symptoms are typical of ‘swimmer’s shoulder’ – an umbrella term for pain brought on by swimming, with underlying causes ranging from a simple overuse tendonitis, to problems caused by age-related changes in the joint.

First, check your hand position on entry into the water with each stroke. The most common mistake is to go in thumb first with your palm facing outwards. This puts more strain on the tendons. Instead, keep your hand flat like a paddle. And if this doesn’t help, switch to breaststroke, which is kinder to your shoulders. 

If neither of these eases your symptoms, get assessed by a physio and avoid swimming until your shoulder settles.

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