Being a keen swimmer myself I suffer a little with tight shoulders due to my training and the hands on treatments I do at Range of Motion Physical Therapy, Lucan. Swimmers shoulder is the term used to describe the problem of shoulder pain in a swimmer. Below is an overview of the injury but it is more of an issue with rotator cuff tendonitis and shoulder pain impingement which we can all suffer from due to posture and our work.

Swimming is an unusual sport in that the shoulders and upper extremities are used for locomotion, while at the same time requiring above average shoulder flexibility and range of motion (ROM) for maximal efficiency. This is often associated with an undesirable increase in joint laxity. Furthermore, it is performed in a fluid medium, which offers more resistance to movement than air. This combination of unnatural demands can lead to a spectrum of overuse injuries seen in the swimmer’s shoulder, the most common of which is rotator cuff tendinitis.

Rotator Cuff: the key muscle group of the shoulder is the rotator cuff, made up of the subscapularis, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and teres minor. The primary role of the rotator cuff is to function as the dynamic and functional stabiliser of the glenohumeral joint. These muscles and their tendons can be overused and injured in shoulder dominant activities such as swimming, with the most commonly injured portion of the cuff being the supraspinatus.

Rotator cuff tendinitis, or impingement syndrome, may be due to:

  • Keeping the arm in the same position for long periods of time, such as doing computer work or hairstyling
  • Sleeping on the same arm each night
  • Playing sports requiring the arm to be moved over the head repeatedly as in tennis, swimming, and lifting weights over the head
  • Working with the arm overhead for many hours or days (such as in painting and carpentry)
  • Poor control or coordination of your shoulder and shoulder blade muscles
  • Poor posture over many years and the usual fraying of the tendons that occurs with age may also lead to rotator cuff tendinitis.


  • Pain is more likely in the front of the shoulder and may radiate to the side of the arm. However, this pain always stops before the elbow. If the pain travels beyond the arm to the elbow and hand, this may indicate a pinched nerve.
  • There may also be pain with lowering the shoulder from a raised position.
  • At first, this pain may be mild and occur only with certain movements of the arm. Over time, pain may be present at rest or at night, especially when lying on the affected shoulder.
  • You may have weakness and loss of motion when raising the arm above your head. Your shoulder can feel stiff with lifting or movement. It may become more difficult to place the arm behind your back.

Treatment initially involves resting the shoulder and avoiding activities that cause pain. It may involve:

  • Ice packs applied 20 minutes at a time, 3 – 4 times a day to the shoulder
  • Avoiding or reducing activities that cause or worsen your symptoms to worsen
  • You should start physical therapy to learn exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles of your rotator cuff.
  • With rest and exercise, symptoms often improve or go away. However, this may take weeks or months to occur.

For more information about managing your symptoms at home and returning to sports or other activities, contact me at Range of Motion Physical Therapy, Lucan.