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Swimming Injuries: Tips, Prevention, and Treatment

Swimmers are well versed in early morning practices, team workouts, and living healthy lifestyles. What many may not know is that swimming with poor stroke mechanics or decreased flexibility and strength may cause an overuse injury.

By taking part in a strength training and stretching program, young swimmers can help improve their muscular and cardiovascular endurance, leading to better and more consistent stroke mechanics.

Common Swimming Injuries

Neck and shoulder injuries are among the most common injuries that swimmers face.

Neck and shoulder injuries from swimming include:

  • Irritation and inflammation in the shoulders
  • Rotator cuff tendonitis or tears
  • Shoulder impingement syndrome, which is a result of pressure on the rotator cuff muscles from part of the shoulder blade when the arm is lifted overhead
  • Tears in the cartilage around the shoulder socket
  • Neck and low back pain
  • Bicep tendonitis

Swimmers might also experience knee injuries. Stress on the knees can result in pain under or around the kneecap or at the inside of the knee.

Swimmers who experience pain or soreness for more than 48 hours should seek medical attention. The experts at UPMC Sports Medicine can work with you to evaluate and  treat most common swimming injuries to help prevent more serious long-term effects.

Causes of swimming injuries

  • Overtraining
  • Not enough rest periods
  • Poor stroke mechanics
  • Poor breathing technique
  • Poor flexibility or range of motion
  • Decreased rotator cuff or shoulder blade (scapular muscle) strength
  • Poor core strength or stability
  • Decreased hip muscle strength

Treating Swimming Injuries

The best ways to prevent injuries are to warm up properly before swimming, and take part in preseason and in-season strengthening and conditioning programs.

Strength training should focus on:

  • Rotator cuff and scapular muscles to improve stability of the shoulders
  • Quadriceps (thigh muscles) and hip muscles to improve the kick, specifically for the breaststroke
  • Abdominal muscles and core

Using pull-buoys or paddles for gradual resistance in the water also provides sport-specific strengthening.

Preventing Swimming Injuries: Tips for Improving Stroke Mechanics

It's important to gradually increase the intensity and length of swims to avoid overtraining. Allow the body proper rest periods between competitions and training sessions.

Below we've outlined the swim stroke techniques for each stroke to help prevent common swimming injuries.

Freestyle stroke

  • When breathing, keep the head in line with the body to avoid neck pain or numbness and tingling in the arms.
  • Rotate the body toward the breathing side to avoid turning the neck too far and over-reaching with the arms.
  • Breathe equally to both sides to prevent excess stress on one side of the neck.


  • Weak muscles in the front of the neck will tire more quickly than strong ones, resulting in neck soreness with increased laps.
  • Swimmers just starting to swim this stroke should gradually increase both distance and intensity.
  • Rotating the body properly with each stroke also will help decrease stress on the neck and shoulders.


  • Keep the head in line with the body to avoid increased stress on the neck.
  • Strong thigh and hip muscles will make for a stronger kick and a faster swim.
  • Leg strength will also help decrease the stress and strain placed on the knees as swimming distance increases.


  • Proper timing of this stroke decreases the possibility of neck, shoulder, or back pain.
  • Focusing on a strong kick and upper body will aid in body position, as well as breathing.

Contact UPMC Sports Medicine

To schedule an appointment or ask a question, call 1-855-937-7678 or contact us online.