What Is Swimmers Shoulder? Plus How To Avoid It

What is swimmers shoulder

Swimmer’s shoulder is the pain and swelling that occurs when the tendons and ligaments in the shoulders become inflamed from overuse.

The shoulder is a ball and socket joint, which gives it a lot of mobility. It’s why your arm moves around fluidly in what seems like almost any direction. That mobility comes at a price, which is complexity.

The shoulder joint comprises of the bones of the shoulder blade and the collarbone as well as the upper arm (humerus). Providing stability are the muscles of not just the arm but also the back and chest.

In addition to this, there are ligaments, tendons and cartilage holding it all together.

So as you can probably imagine, there are quite a few places for little injuries.

For dedicated swimmers, overuse of the shoulder is a serious issue, as even a small tear will cause a lot of discomfort. Trying to push through the pain can lead to knock-on problems and potentially an end to swimming altogether.

The best way to handle swimmer’s shoulder is to:

  1. Prevent injury in the first place, or
  2. Rehabilitate injury with rest and conditioning

In both situations, building strength and mobility around the upper body is key.

Build Good Habits

Warming up properly before you hit the pool is essential to keeping your joints fit. And there are exercises you can do after your swim session to help, as well.

Building these habits into your workout routine will help you prevent injury and stay swimming for longer.

Before You Swim

Swimming dynamic stretching

  • Gentle cardio – If you can walk to the pool, this is honestly a brilliant warm up for your body. If not, then a short go on the treadmill or a few minutes skip on the jump rope in the car park are also a great option. If it must be the pool, take a couple of easy lengths in the pool. And we mean easy!
  • Dynamic stretching – Once your heart is beginning to pump properly, dynamic stretching will target the muscle groups you’re going to use for your long swim. This type of stretching moves the muscles and tendons in the way they are used during exercise. Positions are not held. For swimmer’s shoulder, some gentle neck turns and small arm circles getting gradually larger are good options.

After You Swim

Hydrate swimming

  • Static stretching – These stretches are the ones you hold in position for up to 45 seconds. A great one for the shoulder and upper back is to bring one arm across the body and bring the other arm up to hold it in place. To stretch the front of the shoulder and pecs, clasp the hands around the back and lock elbows.
  • Hydrate – Make sure you replenish lost fluids after every workout. Your joints are lubricated with synovial fluid. Staying properly hydrated keeps your joints—and the rest of you—in good health.

Dryland Days


when you are away from the pool, there are still plenty of things you can do to strengthen your shoulders. One of the most important is rest! This isn’t just for regular recovery or injury but also so that your muscles have a chance to grow. You’ll feel more efficient if you take some rest now and then.

Here are a few exercises that will help strengthen the muscles around the shoulder. They don’t require any special equipment.

  1. Push-ups – This classic calisthenic exercise focuses on all the muscles of the shoulder girdle, including the chest and upper back. One of the great things about push-ups is that they can be easily customised for ability. If you’re an absolute beginner, you can start in a kneeling plank. Or you can press with your upper body elevated against a sturdy chair or bench. If you’re a real pro, try the opposite: elevate your feet on a low block for added challenge.
  2. YTI – Named for the letter shapes your body makes, this exercise targets the upper back muscles. Point your thumbs up as you lift your arms up and be sure you are engaging your back. You only need to do small movements for big benefits. Bonus: your posture will improve from this one.
  3. Rotator cuff strengthening – Lie down on your side, and try these internal and external rotation exercises. Hold a small weight or a tin of food. Keep the elbow at a 90-degree angle to the body and rotate the arm holding the weight away from the body. Swap the weight to the other arm and rotate it toward the body. Turn over on your other side and try again with each arm. Repeat each exercise x 10 reps x 3 sets.

Focus Elsewhere

Swimming kickboard

Don’t neglect the rest of your body. Other muscle groups will affect your shoulder’s performance in the pool. If your arms are feeling tired, have a day devoted to leg strengthening. Get out your kickboard and work on front crawl and breaststroke kicks. Or for a bit of a challenge, use just a pull buoy in your hands or nothing at all, and extend your arms for butterfly and backstroke kicks.

You can also work on your rotations. Practice getting into and out of turns efficiently. Drill down into the fine details of hand and foot placement. Get your tuck even tighter, and begin to refine timings.

If you are a tumble turn novice, you can start with the basics of the log roll. Extend in a flat arrow shape on your back and roll onto your side and then continue onto your front. Then try the reverse. Try to use only abdominals, obliques and back muscles to generate the turn. Keep legs and arms extended fully the entire time.

Teachers Tips

Swim Now coached pool sessions

If you’ve injured your shoulder previously, a few coached pool sessions are a great transition back to swimming or general exercise.

You’ll soon build up strength and range of motion with some focused guidance from a teacher.

All our teachers at Swim Now have the experience and knowledge to help you heal and get back to the sport you love.

Alistair Mills
by Alistair Mills

In 2016 I saw an opportunity for a new swimming company that did things a little bit differently and here we are almost 4 years later, having built a family of teachers and clients that we are all really proud of.

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