Shoulder Pain Sucks (Coaches’ Corner #16) – May 2017

admin Coaches' Corner

By Jonathan Kraft, Coach, SR2.

As the season ramps up, tradition has it that many of you guys will begin to get “injured” and complain of shoulder pain. Often, this is the result of “swimmer’s shoulder”, which is an inflammation of muscles around the shoulder. This can be very sore and continue to plague an athlete for the remainder of the season. So, I thought it fitting to discuss this at the onset of the summer in the hopes of helping as many VIKs as possible avoid these shoulder agitations. The following article was compiled by a fellow coach, who wrote it in response to shoulder issues. Enjoy the read, but also think about what you can do to prevent this from happening to you as well. – Coach Jon

Shoulder Pain Sucks

By Vicky Luan

If you don’t have it right now, DON’T let it happen. If you do have it, you’re not alone. Roughly 3 out of every 4 swimmers will experience swimmer’s shoulder during their career. And it’s the worst when it comes on a day that you’re extremely motivated to come to practice and work your hardest to be the best. SO, to overcome this troublesome dilemma, think about the following questions and their solutions:

“Why does it happen?”


The shoulder joint is an incredibly complex design of muscle groups and tendons intertwined to provide the greatest range of motion in your body. Because of this, it becomes one of the most heavily worked joint in our body. As swimmers, we are especially reliant on its mobility to help us get through the endless series of 100s and 200s and 400 meters of practice. But after 3000+ strokes in an hour and a half, the tiny muscles that hold our shoulder pieces together get inflamed, tired and destabilize. When these central muscles give up, we feel pain.

“But I’m an athlete, so I can just push through the pain right?”


Unfortunately, this makes things worse. When those essential muscle groups that stabilize our shoulders give up and you continue to swim, other muscle groups outside of the shoulder (i.e. scapular muscles hugging the shoulder blades, collarbone, and lower down the arm) come in to compensate. This happens especially when you try to change up your stroke to alleviate the pain. In other words, your pain can spread.

“Okay, so should I just rest and stay away from the pool when I feel pain?”

Not necessarily.

Escaping the pain doesn’t cure it. When there’s inflammation in any tendon in the shoulder, it cannot be cured by rest alone. In fact, inconsistent schedules of practice and rest can cause the tendons to become more sensitive and prone to inflammation, which then causes the injury to get worse without proper treatment.

“Alright, so what should I do? / What’s the proper treatment?”

The first step is to come up with a plan.

Talk to your coach about your shoulder pain and discuss modifications to certain practice sets that can help you improve other skills in the water. Communication is key! The next is to stabilize and strengthen the scapular and rotator cuff muscles that hold the shoulder together. There are a bunch of basic exercises that can be practiced to do so:

To find more exercises, go to OR

“Any other prevention tips?”


One of the most understated advice is one of the most important habits that we, as swimmers, need to keep in mind. A sluggish, hunched and curled up posture when we’re standing or sitting is extremely detrimental to our shoulder stability. If you have shoulder pain already due to a tendon inflammation, a bad posture can cause that tendon to stay irritated with no room (literally) to heal. So, roll those shoulders back and STAND UP STRAIGHT.


If you’re someone who tends to sleep in fetal position or on your side, pay attention to which side you’re lying on. When you fall asleep, your body becomes so relaxed that the force of gravity can become more weight on top of an affected shoulder and cause more pain and irritation. Not to mention, you’re in that position for up to 8 whole hours!! So if this is the case for you, switch up your sleeping position and try sleeping flat on your back instead. That’ll help open up your shoulder and increase muscle recovery!


As I coach, I can’t stress this enough. DRINK WATER DURING PRACTICE. You might not feel its effects very dramatically or immediately, but maintaining this habit of drinking water regularly during practice can prevent injuries and help improve muscle recovery post-practice. So if you’re drinking enough water and not feeling pain, you’re doing
well! Keep it up!

For more information on swimmer’s shoulder, visit OR