Swimmer’s Shoulder

By Heidi Austin, DPT

Swimmer’s Shoulder

This year I’ve been dealing with nagging shoulder pain with swimming long distances. Despite some early-season frustration, I think I’ve been cured. To help out my fellow triathletes/patients who may be experiencing the same thing, I thought I would share what I’ve learned from research as well as from my own personal rehab. To keep it simple, I’m breaking it down into a “to do” list. In my particular case, I’ve been dealing with shoulder impingement.

image of swimmer in pool

JOI treats swimmer’s shoulder

What is impingement, you ask? Impingement occurs when the rotator cuff tendons are compressed by part of the shoulder blade (acromion) with overhead activity. As the arm is lifted, the acromion rubs, or “impinges” on, the surface of the rotator cuff. This causes pain and limits movement. Please note these guidelines are only specific to that diagnosis.

If you want to learn more about the anatomy of the shoulder, go to this VIDEO.

Heidi’s “To Do’s” for Swimmer’s Shoulder

  1. Take a good look at your posture: Do you have a forward head or rounded shoulders? Do you sit all day in a slumped position at your job/school? How many hours a day are you sitting? For a quick reference, look at your profile in the mirror. The head should be centered over the shoulders, and the hips should sit underneath the shoulders. As a side note, this position does require some extra energy. Your neck and shoulders will thank you later!
  2. Try out a posture shirt: Although there is no published research yet to support their usage, they can increase your postural awareness and proprioception. Note: it has to fit very tight to get the job done. I have worn mine throughout the workday and during bike trainer sessions. Because of its tight fit, I’ve only worn in it for 1-3 hours at a time. Kinesio-taping could provide a similar fix if you really can’t afford to miss your training. Make sure you purchase the waterproof type.
  3. Strengthen your rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers! You can stop by and see your friendly JOI PT for recommendations. Some of my favorites include:
  • I’s, T’s, Y’s
  • Banded Rows
Row with t-band

Rowing with T-band

  • Banded External and Internal Rotation
Internal Rotation with band

IR With Band

External Rotation with Band

External Rotation with Bands

  1. Avoid kickboards as they put your shoulder in a position of impingement.
  2. Stay away from the paddles. Paddles add resistance to your stroke and will only make the pain worse.
  3. REST if you can until you fix the root of the problem.
  4. If you can’t rest, keep your workouts below 4000 m until the pain subsides.
  5. Have a professional take a look at your stroke.
  6. See a good sports physical therapist at JOI 🙂
  7. And since I know most of you crazy endurance athletes will ignore #6, I will say it one more time:


image of A woman resting


To make an appointment for physical therapy at one of the 12 JOI Rehab Centers, please call 904-858-7045. 

JOI Fracture and Injury Care

JOI Physicians are currently offering ASAP fracture and injury care. This is a new option for patients who would like to avoid the emergency room if they have suffered a fracture or soft tissue injury. To learn more about this service, read this article about fracture and injury care. Make an appointment by calling (904)JOI-2000.

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By: Heidi Austin, DPT

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