What Injuries Do Olympic Swimmers Suffer?

Article by Zoe Russell

Swimming is one of Australia’s most successful sports at the Olympic Games!

Out of a total of 190 Medals that Australian Swimmers have won – 59 of them are gold. Quite often, it looks pretty easy for these athletes. However, there is several injuries and hours of training that swimmers put in to ensure their success.

Swimmers require an intricate combination of strength, power, endurance and flexibility! Although most injuries occur in the pool as a result of training and competition, it is also essential to recognise that “out of water” injuries, such as rolling an ankle, can also affect a swimmer!! Not surprisingly, injuries to swimmers are pretty standard, with four injuries for every 1000 hours reported in male competitive swimmers, with female swimmers reporting 3.8 for every 1000 hours of training (Wolf et al., 2009).

What Injuries Do Swimmer’s Suffer?

If gold medals were awarded, the shoulders would win GOLD for the more frequently injured part of a swimmer’s body! Sein, Walton & Linklater (2010) reported that 91% of swimmers report a shoulder injury!

Swimmer’s shoulder is the colloquial name for Rotator Cuff Injury that can range from shoulder impingement to shoulder tendinopathy to rotator cuff tears that can require surgery. Although we often associate the elite swimmer with the swimmer’s shoulder – it is essential to realise that all swimmers can sustain these injuries! Swimmer’s shoulder is the most common swimming injury and often presents with pain in the shoulder with stroke, and can sometimes have clicking and clunking, with or without pain.

The Winner of the Silver Medal May Shock You!

Did you pick the Knee?

Knee injuries have been reported as high as 86% of swimmers who have had at least one episode of knee pain (Rovere et al., 1985). However, these are almost exclusive to breaststrokers.

More info: Breaststrokers Knee

What about Bronze?

You would hand the bronze medal to spinal injuries, which often occur due to the repetitive nature of swimming. The good news is that most of these consist of muscle strains and joint stiffness. However, early presentation for an accurate diagnosis and management plan is essential! 50% of butterfly swimmers and 47% of breaststroke swimmers have reported back pain at some stage in their career (Drori et al., 1996).

Some of the more common spine injuries can include:

Don’t Forget the Other Competitors in the Swimming Injury Race!

Swimmers can less commonly injure other regions of their bodies. Given the nature of swimming, requiring them to be buoyant in the water, it is often overlooked how serious an injury can be for a Swimmer’s performance!! Other injuries to not forget include:

Foot and Ankle:


Wrist and Hand:

What Causes Swimming Injuries?

Swimming injuries most commonly occur as a result of:

  • Overtraining
  • Poor technique
  • A sudden spike in workload

Several factors can predispose a swimmer to develop an injury. Your highly skilled physiotherapist identifies these factors and correcting them to reduce your risk of developing an injury. At PhysioWorks, our physiotherapists have special interests in treating swimming injuries and can speak directly to your coach to ensure a speedy recovery!

Some of the factors that can contribute to the development of an injury include:

  • Previous Injury
  • Joint stiffness
  • Muscle tightness
  • Shoulder blade – Scapulohumeral rhythm issues
  • Poor rotator cuff strength
  • Inadequate joint range of motion
  • Inadequate recovery periods from training and racing
  • Insufficient warm-up/warm down
  • Poor core stability

Prevention is Key!

Although the number of injuries that a swimmer can have can be scary – the great news is that you can prevent them! Evidence suggests that injury management should focus on prevention and early treatment, addressing the impairments associated with the condition, and analysing training methods and stroke mechanics. (Tovin, 2006).

The first step in preventing injury is to tell someone that you can feel your symptoms. You can discuss this with your coach or physiotherapist.

The next step is to assess your body’s suitability for your chosen pet event! Swimmers require a combination of strength, mobility, power and endurance specific for their event – whether it’s the 100m or 1500m!

Did you know that PhysioWorks has devised a specialised swimmer screening tool, specific for swimmers of all ages and levels of competition, to help identify areas they can improve! It takes an extended consultation time to run fully through a swimmer screening! If that’s what you are after, please tell us at the time of booking.

Need a Whole Swimming Squad Screened?

Your PhysioWorks physiotherapists can also come to your squad, screen everyone, and identify areas that can help you prevent injury. Screening can also help improve performance as we liaise directly with your coach to identify your individual and specific needs!

If you would like to have a Swimming Injury Screening – contact the friendly team at PhysioWorks, and we can arrange a suitable time.

Swimming Injury Treatment

While each swimmer will require extra care, treatment usually involves manual therapy. Your treatment depends on your physiotherapist’s thorough understanding of your stroke and discussing your rehabilitation plan with your coach! More importantly, finding the root cause of the injury and then, if required modifying your stroke technique to prevent the issue from reoccurring is the key to success.

Common treatments include:

If you have any further questions about the above injuries or prevention, please do not hesitate to consult your PhysioWorks Swimming physiotherapist.

More info:

Swimming Injuries

Swimmers Shoulder

Breaststrokers Knee

Butterfly Back

You've just added this product to the cart:

Physio Works...