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4 swimmer's shoulder exercises you may use in PT

swimmer's shoulder exercises
4 minutes, 4 seconds

Swimming is a blast for all ages. Some people like to relax in the pool after a long week, while others do the sport competitively. But repetitive motions in the water can cause painful conditions and injuries, like swimmer’s shoulder.

Shoulder pain is common in competitive swimmers, with 40% to 91% of aquatic athletes experiencing it at some point in their lifetime. 

Read on to learn the ins and outs of shoulder pain as well as swimmer’s shoulder exercises that can help treat it. 

What is swimmer’s shoulder?

Swimmer’s shoulder is the common term used for subacromial impingement syndrome. It occurs when your shoulder tendons, like the rotator cuff tendon and bicipital tendon, rub against your shoulder blade, causing inflammation.

It’s often caused by shoulder overuse from repetitive motion, but it can also stem from wear and tear over time or an inflamed bursa. A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that cushions the tissue surrounding the shoulder joint, allowing it to move smoothly.

It’s called swimmer’s shoulder because the repetitive movements of aquatic athletes often cause the injury. The various swimming strokes require athletes to move their shoulders in the same way, over and over. In fact, elite swimmers average 30,000 strokes per arm on a weekly basis.

Even though the injury is most prominent in competitive swimmers, it can also affect other people who do repetitive overhead motions. Subacromial impingement syndrome can affect baseball and tennis players as well as electricians and construction workers.

Symptoms of swimmer’s shoulder

Pain is the most prevalent symptom of swimmer’s shoulder, but it can flare up with different movements or be coupled with other symptoms.

Symptoms of swimmer’s shoulder include:

  • Pain when your arm is extended overhead.
  • Pain that radiates from your shoulder to your neck or down your arm.
  • Pain in your shoulder while lying on your side.
  • Tenderness.
  • Decreased range of motion.
  • Muscle weakness.

3 benefits of physical therapy for swimmer’s shoulder

Shoulder pain is one of the most common reasons that people seek out physical therapy for swimmer’s shoulder. A physical therapist can use several methods to increase your range of motion and decrease the pain from shoulder issues. They can also walk you through swimmer’s shoulder exercises.

Benefits of doing physical therapy for swimmer’s shoulder include:

  1. Improved posture — Poor posture can worsen your shoulder pain and interfere with the swimmer’s shoulder recovery process. By ensuring that your shoulders are pulled back and sitting properly in the middle of their sockets, the affected shoulder can be in the proper position needed to let the area heal. Your physical therapist can make an assessment of your posture and make the small adjustments that are needed to help alleviate your shoulder pain.
  2. Pain management — There are plenty of ways that physical therapy can help to alleviate the pain that comes from swimmer’s shoulder. With manual therapy techniques, like soft tissue mobilization, a physical therapist can use their hands to feel for scar tissue in your shoulder. By breaking up the tissue with massagelike pressure on the shoulder, they can release the tension that’s causing the pain.
  3. Increased range of motion — Just like pain management, manual therapy can be used to help your range of motion that might be diminished due to swimmer’s shoulder. For example, joint mobilization can help restore the shoulder joint’s full mobility by moving it around to find the tissue that’s causing the restriction. Your therapist can loosen up the tight tissue that’s preventing your joint from having a complete range of motion.

4 physical therapy exercises for swimmer’s shoulder

Safe and effective exercises for swimmer’s shoulder are integral to both pain management and an increased range of motion in your shoulder. Physical therapists have knowledge of a plethora of swimmer’s shoulder exercises to help alleviate the symptoms and can advise you on how many times you should do each one. Here are just a few that they might recommend:

  1. Retraction — Use a band and wrap it around an object that will allow you to hold both ends, such as a doorknob. Keep your shoulders down and your arms by your side. Squeeze your shoulder blades together for five-second intervals, relaxing between each.
  2. External rotation — This one also requires a band to be wrapped around a solid object, though you will only use the affected arm to hold the band. Keep your elbow at your side and move your arm 90 degrees.
  3. Door frame exercise — Place your hands on either side of a door frame. Keep your arms against the door while moving your body forward to stretch your upper back.
  4. Arm cross exercise — Hold up one arm at a 90-degree angle and pull your hand into a fist. Reach over with your other arm to pull your elbow into your chest to stretch your shoulders.

Alliance PTP can help find expert physical therapists near you to address swimmer’s shoulder 

At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’re proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to help people get the high-quality PT they need. 

Want to see a physical therapist in person? We can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that’s close to you and that can treat your swimmer’s shoulder. 

Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform. 

Come find help for your injury or chronic condition today!


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