WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. - Michael Phelps makes it look so easy. But for all the speed and grace of an Olympic swimmer, there are a lot of muscles working overtime in creating one.
More than one million competitive and recreational swimmers have made swimming one of the most popular fitness activities in the United States, according to sportsinjuries.org.
It’s easy to understand why. Swimming is a low-impact exercise and is less likely to cause injury than many other activities, which makes it ideal for seniors, pregnant women and those recovering from injury.
Then there are more competitively motivated athletes who might be looking toward Brazil 2016: More than one-third of swimmers practice and compete year-round, and some elite swimmers might train in the water for more than five miles a day, an activity that can put joints through extreme repetitive motion.
According to Dr. Stuart Elkowitz of Somers Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine Group, that kind of regimen increases the risk of injury.
“With overuse comes fatigue and failure to adhere to proper stroke techniques, which in turn can lead to injuries,” he says. He added that most swimming injuries are to the shoulder, followed by the knee and neck.
Elkowitz says that so called “swimmer's shoulder” is the most common injury among swimmers, and affects the shoulder's muscles and tendons. It is due, he says, to overuse or poor swimming technique, and manifests itself as pain and inflammation.” “Swimmer's shoulder” is often associated with the freestyle stroke, as well as with the butterfly and backstroke.
“Like athletes who throw a lot, swimmers put a great deal of stress on their shoulders,” says Elkowitz, “sometimes logging thousands of yards in the pool each day and using the shoulder as many as 2,000 times in a single five-to-eight mile workout.” Elkowitz says that more shoulder injuries are reported among swimmers than among baseball pitchers.
“The most important factor in avoiding shoulder injury is to swim with correct technique,” says Elkowitz. He adds that swimmers should avoid over-training or training with already tired muscles. He also suggests avoiding sudden increases in the number or intensity of workouts, as well as avoiding overuse of swim paddles. Additionally, he recommends caution when using a kick-board with outstretched arms, as it puts shoulders in a weak position.
Other swimming injuries include swimmer’s knee, an injury generated by the stroke mechanics of the breaststroke kick, also known as the “whip kick”. In order to avoid this, Elkowitz suggests alternating swimming strokes, as well as warming up and stretching before a swim session.
So, before you plunge into visions of yourself in the next Olympic games, take steps to avoid injury. Michael Phelps will be relieved.