Swim Safely This Summer

Now that summer is here, many of us are heading to the beach or pool for one of our favorite warm weather activities, swimming! Recently many of my clients have been asking me for advice regarding their injuries and what is the best style of swimming for them, hence the topic this week. Not only is swimming fun, but it is a great way to exercise in a generally low-impact way while on vacation or enjoying time off. However, this does not mean that swimming is a completely easy and risk free exercise!Correct form is crucial in preventing swimming related injuries, and there are four popular strokes in swimming that many of us may be practicing incorrectly.

Possibly the most common stroke, the freestyle requires the swimmer to keep their body straight while floating on their belly, kick with their legs, and bring their arms over their body one at a time almost like a windmill to complete the stroke. This stroke is important for any swimmer wanting to build speed, and so, you must time your breaths evenly while performing it.Similarly, the backstroke requires the swimmer to float on their back to move forward, keeping their body horizontal in relation to the water and kicking their legs while raising their arms like a “reverse windmill” to push the water beneath them and achieve the stroke.Neck and shoulder injuries are common with these techniques. Neck injuries can be avoided or minimized if the swimmer doesn’t rotate their head but instead keeps it aligned with their spine while performing the freestyle. To avoid backstroke-related neck injuries, swimmers should start off with traveling only short distances in this position in order to allow time for the anterior neck muscles to adapt to this type of movement. Shoulder injuries or shoulder pain that tends to increase with overhead activate may also exacerbate with this stroke.

Another very common stroke, the breaststroke, is a bit more challenging. In this stroke, the swimmer will pull their arms up to propel above the surface and take a breath, then alternately kick their legs to bob back down and propel forward. This stroke is good for core stabilization, but can be problematic for those with knee (compromised knees, hamstrings or quadriceps) and back injuries. This style can cause swimmer’s knee, in which the inner ligament of the knee is stressed. Those with low back pain especially with extension such as lumbar stenosis should also avoid this style.

The fourth most common stroke is the butterfly stroke, which is similar to but more advanced than the breaststroke; new swimmers should approach it with caution! In this stroke, the swimmer kicks their legs similar to the way a dolphin moves its tail while simultaneously moving their arms together, first in an upward motion before pushing the water down and beneath them. This stroke also strengthens the core if the swimmer successfully creates a rhythmic pattern between their motions both above and below the water. However, the lower back, shoulder and knee could be injured if the swimmer relies too heavily on the strength of their back to lift their upper body out of the water.Those with low back pain with extension, knee pain (especially with extending the knee) and shoulder pain that occurs with overhead activities should consult with a physical therapist before attempting this style.

There are precautions related to all of these strokes. If you are ready to dive into the water but are getting cold feet because of injuries, then it’s time to consult with a Rebalance physical therapist. They can recommend and help modify swimming styles and give guidance to you to prevent injuries before you hit the waves this summer!

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