Swimming injuries: Prevention and first aid

Swimming is an excellent workout for the mind.

Swimming is an excellent workout for the mind.

Photo credit: Fotosearch

What you need to know:

  • It is important that new swimmers take a swimming class to learn proper techniques and avoid injuries.
  • Most drownings occur in natural bodies of water such as oceans, rivers, or lakes. Children are at the highest risk for drowning.
  • Never leave a child unattended near any body of water.

Swimming is a low-impact activity that is gentle on the joints. As a result, swimming improves cardiovascular health while maintaining a healthy weight.

In addition, swimming is an excellent workout for the mind.

However, it is also associated with injuries. Drowning is the most serious and potentially fatal injury related to swimming.

Most drownings occur in natural bodies of water such as oceans, rivers, or lakes. Children are at the highest risk for drowning. Never leave a child unattended near any body of water.

Swimming injuries are likely to be caused by:

  • poor breathing technique
  • overtraining
  • poor stroking

Injuries sustained by swimmers

Foot and ankle tendonitis

This is an overuse injury in swimmers. It is caused by the repetitive kicking motion of the breaststroke and butterfly strokes. The symptoms include pain and swelling in the Achilles tendon or the plantar fascia. Treatment involves rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medication.

There are several ways to avoid developing foot and ankle tendonitis as a swimmer. First, make sure to stretch properly before and after swimming.

Second, use the correct form when swimming, avoid pointing toes straight when kicking and vary your strokes.

Third, cross-train with other exercises to give your feet a break from the repetitive motion of swimming.

Swimmers’ shoulders

Swimmer’s shoulder is a condition that can be caused by several things. The first is overuse, which is common in swimmers who swim many laps or make repetitive motions with their arms.

The second is poor technique, which can cause the rotator cuff muscles and tendons to become irritated.

The third is impingement when the shoulder muscles and tendons become trapped under the clavicle.

The fourth is instability, which can be caused by a previous injury or surgery.

Treatment for a swimmer's shoulder includes rest, ice, and physical therapy.

Swimmers can avoid developing swimmer's shoulder by using proper technique, avoiding overuse, and stretching the muscles and tendons around the shoulder.

Swimmer's ear

Swimmer's ear is an outer ear canal infection that affects both children and adults. It occurs when water remains in the external ear canal for an extended time, allowing bacteria to develop.

Symptoms include pain, itching, and discharge from the ear. The ear may swell too. Treatment involves using a combination of antibiotics and ear drops. In addition, swimmers can avoid developing swimmer's ear by keeping their ears dry, using earplugs or swimming caps, and not removing ear wax (ear wax protects the ear).

Neck injuries

Neck injuries are relatively rare in swimmers, but they can occur. The most common type of neck injury is a neck sprain caused during breaststroke when the head is extended too far forward.

Turning the neck to breathe in freestyle swimming can strain your neck. The symptoms include pain and stiffness in the neck.

Swimmers can avoid developing neck injuries by maintaining good posture and alignment when swimming and avoiding overextension of the neck.

Swimmer's back

The popular breaststroke and butterfly are responsible for lower back pain. When swimming, the head should be up and hips deep in water. These lead to poor posture by swimmers who arch their lower back to see where they are going.

This overcompensation puts stress on the muscles and ligaments on your back.

Swimmers can avoid developing swimmer's back by maintaining good posture and alignment when swimming and avoiding overextension of the spine.

Breaststroke knee

The kicking action of breaststroke causes this condition. It is an overuse injury that results in pain and swelling in the knee. Treatment involves rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medication.

Swimmers can avoid developing breaststroke knee by using proper swimming techniques, avoiding overuse, and stretching the muscles and tendons around the knee.

General swimming first aid

If you are injured while swimming, the first thing you should do is stop swimming and rest. Next, apply ice to the area. If the pain does not improve after 48 hours, see a doctor. Swimmers can also take over-the-counter pain medication to help reduce pain and inflammation.

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