Shouldering On

I swam competitively in high school and college and sporadically throughout my adult life, and never suffered serious shoulder pain. But since an MTA bus knocked me off my bike last fall, breaking my right hand and jamming my my right shoulder, I know what it feels like to fail Neer’s test every day. Swimmers Daily led me to this Philly.com article, Swimmers and shoulders: Who’s watching out for them?

A recent study looked at 80 elite swimmers aged 13-26 and found that 91 percent had shoulder pain. The mean age of these swimmers was 15.9 year old – kids! The majority of these swimmers competed at state to international level so they were the best of the best.

The study examined whether shoulder pain was related to swimming stroke, laxity (tissue looseness) or training. …

This condition was found in 54 percent of swimmers aged between 13 and 14 years, 77 percent between 15 and 16 years, 100 percent between 17 and 18 years and 71 percent between 19 and 22 years of age — as I said, kids! The study found swimmers averaging 15 hours or more than 35 miles per week, demonstrated overuse changes in the rotator cuff tendons.There was not a relationship between tendonopathy and either the type of stroke or laxity. …

The most dramatic finding was that 18.6 to 22.6 percent of competitive swimmers in each age group experienced shoulder pain and difficulty with functional activities. The high school age swimmers had the greatest amount of pain. Her study found the difference between those swimmers with and without symptoms was related to greater exposure to swimming (years and hours per year/week of swimming).

91%! I never trained more than ten hours a week while on teams, and no more than six hours a week on my own, which may well explain my intact shoulders. I also learned not to overpronate during any part of the stroke.

As far as my injury, spring swimming is making my shoulder feel better. Being careful not to overpronate, I swam a difficult 500 meters of crawl and breaststroke last week, then a not-so-bad 1000m crawl a few days later. Moving outdoors, on Tuesday I swam a very relaxed 45 minute 1600m. I couldn’t extend as far as I’d like with my right arm, so I took a ridiculous 60 strokes per 50m, but otherwise it wasn’t bad. On Thursday, I swam another relaxed 1600m in 42 minutes, still very slow. I could extend my arm, but wasn’t pushing hard.

And the shoulder is feeling better and better.

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