Swimming may cause shoulder injuries because of the repetitive shoulder movements like rotation. Injuries include tendonitis, impingement syndrome and labral tears. A popping sound or sensation may occur with any of these injuries. Treatment includes rest, ice and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDS. If your symptoms worsen or persist, consult your physician.
Causes and Risk Factors
According to a 2006 “North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy” article, swimmers tend to have excessive external rotation of the shoulder and decreased internal rotation, causing increased stress on rotator cuff muscles and tendons. Abnormal shoulder range of motion, tight muscles, overtraining, poor posture and improper swimming technique increase your risk of shoulder injuries and popping. Shoulder injuries include impingement syndrome, tendonitis, bursitis and labral tears. Impingement syndrome is when your rotator cuff tendon and bursa or sac of fluid are compressed and inflamed. Swelling or inflammation can cause cracking or popping of your shoulder during swimming. A labral tear is a tear to the cartilage around your shoulder joint. The torn cartilage may catch during shoulder rotation, causing popping or clicking.
Additional Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms vary depending on the severity of your injury. You may experience shoulder pain, which may worsen with overhead shoulder movements and swimming. You may also experience shoulder pain while sleeping. Pain may be described as dull, achy, sharp or stabbing. Signs of a shoulder injury include decreased range of motion, point tenderness over your injury and muscle weakness. Muscle atrophy or muscle loss, constant pain and decreased athletic performance are additional signs and symptoms.
Initial treatment includes rest, ice and NSAIDS such as ibuprofen. While your shoulder is healing, you may need to modify your activities -- avoiding activities that aggravate your symptoms such as swimming, overhead movements and lifting heavy objects. For persistent pain, your physician may recommend physical therapy, corticosteroid injection or surgery. Physical therapy helps you regain normal shoulder range of motion and strength, whereas surgery removes any loose pieces of cartilage and repairs any damage to your cartilage or tendons.
Cross-train one to two days a week and rest at least one day a week to help prevent overtraining. Include stretching and strength training in your workout routine to increase muscle flexibility and strength. For example, perform shoulder extension, and internal and external rotation using a resistance band to strengthen your rotator cuff muscles. Perform shoulder stabilization exercises to maintain good shoulder stability and reduce your risk of injury. Stabilization exercises include holding a pushup position on the floor or wobble board and step-overs, which are performed walking your hands over a step. Lastly, improve your upright posture and correct any improper swimming techniques. For example, do not let your hand cross the mid-line when you pull your arm back in freestyle swimming.
- “American Family Physician”; The Painful Shoulder: Part II Acute and Chronic Disorders; Thomas W. Woodward, M.D., at al.; June 2000
- “Journal of Athletic Training”; Superior Labral Lesions: Diagnosis and Management; Donald F. D'Alessandro, M.D., et al.; 2000
- “North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy”; Prevention and Treatment of Swimmers Shoulder; Brian J. Tovin, D.P.T.; November 2006