As a former year-round or 'elite' swimmer, I can say that in the 10 plus years I dedicated to the sport, I never thought I would get injured. I mean, people use swimming for rehabilitating injuries from high impact sports! How could I ever get injured from the ultra-low-impact activity? The truth is that it is definitely possible to sustain injuries in swimming. Of course these rare instances usually occur among athletes who train like its a part time job, or up to 20 hours per week, including weightlifting and cross training time. In my case, I had just come back from taking two months off and thought that I could jump right back in the water and train as hard as I did before the break. I was highly mistaken and ended up subluxing my shoulder during a butterfly sprint set in practice one morning. I was somewhat lucky enough to have sustained a moderately severe injury and was back in the water a month later doing light workouts. Looking back now I definitely think I could have prevented this shoulder injury and saved myself a lot of uncessary pain and money in rehab. There are certainly steps you can take to prevent shoulder injuries in swimming, whether you are an elite athlete or not. Here are a few I have discovered:
1. Maintain proper technique in your underwater stroke to avoid twisting your shoulder in an awkward position. This means keeping your elbow bent underwater in freestyle and butterfly, which will ensure solid support for your shoulder by using the strength in your whole arm.
2. When you have spent time away from the sport, EASE BACK INTO IT. This is the rule I broke, and it cost me an injury. Increase your distance and intensity level by the week to ensure that you safely get your endurance and strength back.
3. Limit your use of paddles and buoys, which end up providing a false sense of flotation and leaving all the work to your shoulder joint. If you have trained with paddles on a regular basis, you may have sufficiently strengthened your shoulder girdle, but if not, heed this advice.
4. Mix up your workout with all the strokes, even if you are only adept at freestyle. Constantly doing the same stroke can lead to an overuse injury of the shoulder from repeating the same motion over and over again in a single stoke. Strengthen your shoulder from all angles by practicing all four strokes.
5. Breathe on both sides to avoid buliding up muscle unilaterally. Developing muscle in this manner can cause an imbalance in muscle tissue which can lead to injury on the weaker side or sometimes pressure on the stronger joint from the disproportionate amount of muscle surrounding it.
Swimming is still the safest sport out there, but injuries can pop up if you arent concientious about good training practices. Take it from me, prevention will take you much farther than macho pride in the end!