A Guide to Swimmer’s Shoulder | BEST

What is Swimmer’s Shoulder?

Swimmer’s shoulder, also known as shoulder impingement, is a repetitive motion injury that causes inflammation of the tendons and other soft tissue that connects the arm to the upper body. As the name suggests, swimmer’s shoulder commonly develops among swimmers due to the overhead motions involved with this activity. However, this injury can develop in individuals who perform repetitive shoulder motions, including tennis and baseball players, as well as physical jobs such as plumbers, carpenters, and electricians. 

Whether you have been recently diagnosed with swimmer’s shoulder or are researching potential causes of your shoulder pain, learning more about this condition can help you become a more informed patient. Take some time to read the following guide and if you have any additional questions, do not hesitate to reach out to BEST Health System. 

Causes and Symptoms of Swimmer’s Shoulder

Repetitive motion injuries such as swimmer’s shoulder or shoulder impingement are caused by overuse that leads to small tears that inflame tendons and muscles in the shoulder. Continuing to use the shoulder when strained or sprained can lead to more inflammation and scarring. This disrupts the normal functioning of the shoulder, leading to reduced range of motion and pain. 

The most common symptoms of swimmer’s shoulder include: 

  • A radiating pain along the back of the shoulder
  • Muscle weakness and fatigue
  • Stiffness and reduced range of motion
  • Instability in the shoulder

Diagnosing Swimmer’s Shoulder

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is critical to see a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment. Untreated swimmer’s shoulder has the potential to worsen and can lead to associated injuries such as rotator cuff tears and bursitis. 

When you meet with a physician to treat shoulder pain and immobility,they will typically take the following steps to reach a diagnosis:

  • Review your health and injury history
  • Ask questions about your specific symptoms and the activities that trigger them
  • Perform a hands-on examination to detect painful areas
  • Perform movement tests
  • In some cases, order diagnostic testing to confirm swimmer’s shoulder or rule out other conditions

Conservative Treatment Options

Upon diagnosis of swimmer’s shoulder, the goal of initial treatment is to manage symptoms and promote the natural healing process. Swimmer’s shoulder impingement can heal on their own, but it takes time. The most important thing any patient can do is to promote a positive outcome. Added strain on the shoulder prolongs healing time and increases risk of the injury worsening or developing into a more serious problem such as bursitis or a rotator cuff tear. 

Common conservative treatments include:

  • Using a heating pad to relax tense muscles and improve blood flow
  • Alternating heat therapy with cold therapy, such as an ice pack to reduce inflammation or to numb the painful area for a short period of time
  • Modifying activities to reduce stress on the shoulder, such as moving items to limit overhead motions
  • Taking over-the-counter medication on an as-needed basis
  • Undergoing physical therapy to mobilize the joint instability and learn proper shoulder mechanics
  • Receiving corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation and pain in the shoulder

Recovery time for swimmer’s shoulder varies on a case-by-case basis, usually ranging from weeks to months. Some forms of the injury may require up to a year to fully heal and allow for the resumption of normal activities. 

When to Consider Shoulder Surgery

Surgery usually becomes an option only if swimmer’s shoulder doesn’t heal after fully attempting conservative treatments. In other situations, surgery may become necessary if the injury develops into bursitis or a rotator cuff tear. Surgeons can perform many shoulder repair surgeries using minimally invasive arthroscopic techniques that allow for an outpatient procedure. 

Reach out to BEST Health System

If you are living with pain and limited mobility relating to swimmer’s shoulder, the dedicated team at BEST can help. Our multidisciplinary experts offer therapeutic injections, physical therapy, and outpatient surgery to help you at any step of your treatment journey. The BEST is yet to come.