What Injuries Do Olympic Swimmers Suffer?

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

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

Swimmers require an intricate combination of strength, power, endurance and flexibility! Not surprisingly, injuries to swimmers are quite common, with 4 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). Although the majority of injuries occur in the pool as a result of training and competition, it is also important to recognise that “out of water” injuries, such as rolling an ankle can also affect a swimmer!!

What Injuries Do Swimmer’s Suffer?

If gold medals were handed out 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 most common of the swimming injuries and often presents with pain in the shoulder with stroke, and can sometimes have clicking and clunking, with or without pain. 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 swimmer’s shoulder – it is important to realise that all swimmers can sustain these injuries!

Read more on Swimmer’s Shoulder.

The Winner of the Silver Medal May Shock You!

Did you pick the Knee?

In fact, knee injuries have been reported in 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.

What about Bronze?

The bronze medal would be handed to spinal injuries, which often occur as a result of the repetitive nature of swimming. 50% of butterfly swimmers and 47% of breaststroke swimmers have reported back pain at some stage in their career (Drori et al., 1996). 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!

Some of the more common spine injuries can include:

  • Spondylolysis
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Scheuermann Kyphosis
  • Degenerative Disc Disease

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

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

Foot and Ankle:

  • Tendinitis of the extensor tendons


  • Stress syndromes
  • Lateral epicondyalgia

Wrist and Hand:

  • De Quervain’s tenosynovitis
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

What Causes Swimming Injuries?

Swimming injuries most commonly occur as a result of:

  • Overtraining
  • Poor technique
  • Sudden spike in workload

There are several factors that can predispose a swimmer to develop an injury. Your physiotherapist is highly trained in identifying these factors and correcting them to reduce your risk of developing an injury. At PhysioWorks our physiotherapists are specialised 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
  • Poor shoulder blade (scapulohumeral) rhythm
  • Poor rotator cuff strength
  • Inadequate joint range of motion
  • Inadequate recovery periods from training and racing
  • Poor 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 they can be prevented! 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. This can be discussed with your coach or physiotherapist.

The next step is to assess your body’s suitability to 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 have devised a specialised swimmer screening tool, specific for swimmers of all ages and levels of competition, to help identify areas that they can improve! If that’s what you are after, please tell us at the time of booking. It takes an extended consultation time to run fully through a swimmer screening!

Need a Whole Swimming Squad Screened?

Your PhysioWorks physiotherapists can also come to your squad and screen everyone and identify areas that can help you prevent injury. This can be also useful to 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 different care, treatment usually involves manual therapy.  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. This means that your treatment is reliant upon your physiotherapist having a special understanding of your stroke and discussing your rehabilitation plan with your coach!

Common treatments include:

  • Stroke Correction
  • Mixing Training Up! – Avoid overtraining in one particular style of swimming
  • Land Based strength and Conditioning
    • Core Strengthening
    • Rotator Cuff Strengthening
  • Massage.
  • TENS machine.
  • Ultrasound.
  • Mobilisations and manipulations.
  • Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation (RICE).
  • Acupuncture / Dry Needling.

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

Physio Works...