Although swimming is a low-impact form of exercise, the repetitive motions can cause several types of painful overuse injuries, including wrist injuries. Fatigue and failure to use proper swimming techniques further contribute to wrist pain and injuries for swimmers, according to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. Obtaining proper treatment, allowing for adequate rest, performing wrist-strengthening exercises and focusing on prevention will help ease swimming-related wrist injuries and minimize the impact of the injury on your performance.
Swimming Overuse Wrist Injuries
Overuse of the wrist joint during long swimming workouts and training drills can lead to inflammation and pain. Types of overuse wrist injuries include tendon inflammation, or tendinitis; dislocation; nerve injury; tenosynovitis, or inflammation of the protective sheath around the tendon; tunnel syndromes; and overuse stress fractures. Wrist tendinitis, one of the most common sports-related wrist injuries, often manifests itself as tenderness and aching pain provoked by exercise that subsides upon rest, according to Sports Injury Bulletin. If pain or other symptoms arise, obtain a medical evaluation from a sports medicine physician or an orthopedic surgeon.
Treatments for Wrist Pain
Treatment depends upon the cause of pain, as well the severity of the injury. Modify your activity and enlist in the help of a swimming coach to learn proper form and to reduce stress on your wrist joints. Physicians often recommend rest and time out of the water during the initial treatment phase to allow the inflammation to subside. Other treatments for wrist injuries include rest, ice, compression, elevation and anti-inflammatory medication, according to the AOSSM. In some instances, doctors may recommend splints, braces, physical therapy or surgery to correct more serious issues.
Inflexibly of the wrists can cause the radius to touch the wrist bones when the wrist extends while stroking, causing impingement and subsequent pain. Stretch your wrists regularly and perform wrist-strengthening exercises to increase range of motion and strengthen the muscles that hold the wrists in proper alignment, Dr. Kevin Laudner, a kinesiologist at Illinois State University, recommends in a 2014 article for OutsideOnline.com. Try holding a hammer while standing with your arms by your side, tilting the head of the hammer toward the ceiling and then lowering it back down for several repetitions, suggests Laudner. Also try stretching the wrists by periodically moving them back and forth, side to side. See a physical therapist for additional wrist rehabilitation suggestions.
Preventing Wrist Injuries
Wearing wrist guards, stretching regularly and taking frequent breaks can prevent common swimming wrist injuries, according to the AOSSM. Other ways to minimize risk of injury include using proper techniques and avoiding overtraining. Lessen strain on the wrists by using the sidestroke and other similar gliding strokes in which primary propulsion comes from kicking rather than pulling. Because most swimming wrist injuries are relatively minor, conservative treatments often work well and most swimmers can make a quick return to their sport, explains Justin Shaginaw, MPT, ATC, in a 2014 article for Philly.com. Still, do not allow the injury to go untreated as that may cause a decline in performance and possibly lead to surgery in the future, cautions the AOSSM.