Even if swimming has the reputation of being a low-impact exercise, swimming injuries can nevertheless occur due to over-demanding workouts or incorrect technique.
By the way, this article assumes that you swim in a responsible way in a safe environment (with supervision). Otherwise more serious injuries or even death could occur. Please don't take risks!
Swimmer's shoulder is the most common injury in swimming. It can be caused by bad technique, excessive or quickly increased workload or the use of swim paddles and pull buoys. I have written a detailed article about swimmer's shoulder here.
The breaststroke knee or swimmer's knee is an injury that can be generated by the stroke mechanics of the breaststroke kick. Basically, when the legs extend, then are brought back together during the propulsive phase of the kick, the knee is subject to external rotation, for which it isn't designed. The inner ligament of the knee, called the medial collateral ligament, is then put under stress.
To avoid the breaststroke knee, it is advisable to:
- Alternate the swimming strokes.
- Have rest periods during the year where you don't swim breaststroke.
- Properly warm up and do stretching exercises before a swim session.
- Do strengthening exercises for the hamstrings and quadriceps. AskTheTrainer.com for example describes the best leg exercises you can do to strengthen your legs.
The neck is very mobile and this is why certain precautions must be taken to avoid swimming-related neck injuries. Neck Injuries are often due to incorrect technique.
While swimming the freestyle stroke, you should keep the head in line with the spine and the eyes should be looking straight down. Avoid looking to the front or lifting the head to breathe. Also avoid over-rotating the head during the inhale. Rotate the body more so that the head doesn't need to rotate so much to clear the water.
While swimming the breaststroke or butterfly stroke, keep the head aligned with the spine at all times. When you breathe in, look rather down than to the front so that the head stays in a neutral position.
Finally, in backstroke, swim distances must be increased gradually so that the anterior neck muscles have time to adapt.
Lower Back Injuries
Lower back swimming injuries are also often due to incorrect technique.
While swimming freestyle, it can happen that you swim with a high head position and/or your hips and legs sink. As a consequence you may be kicking hard to keep the legs up and be overarching the back. If this is the case, you should work on your position and balance so that you can find a relaxed horizontal position.
While swimming butterfly, it may be that you have poor technique and lift your upper body out of the water with the strength of your back. If that's the case, work on your body undulation and dolphin kick so that it's the body wave that lifts your upper body out of the water and not your back. Also warm up and stretch properly before attempting this swim stroke.
Additional Tips To Prevent Swimming Injuries
- Warm up and stretch before a swim session.
- Cool down and stretch after a swim session.
- Follow a general program to develop your functional strength.