Swimming, already a popular activity, has taken on new interest as a result of the Olympics.
As a low-impact exercise, it’s ideal for seniors, pregnant women or those recovering from injury, says Dr. Stuart Elkowitz of Somers Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine Group in New York.
Still, there are injuries. “Most swimming injuries are to the shoulder, followed by the knee and neck,” he says. “By following straightforward tips, most of these injuries can be avoided.”
Q: Are these injuries age-discriminatory?
A: No. A weekend warrior, youth and the old can all be victims.
Q: But isn’t swimming touted as a great senior activity?
A: Yes. The pool is a great modality for therapy. It’s great for people with arthritic conditions. The buoyancy allows movement of arthritic joints. And many times it is an exercise for people who have to alleviate weight-bearing activities.
Lap swimming is a great form of exercise, of course.
Q: But are you concerned with potential injuries?
A: Swimmers need to be concerned about pain in the shoulder associated with overhead activity. Bursitis or rubbing of the tendons can result. There are cortisone injections and therapy for these conditions.
Shoulder injuries commonly occur because swimmers overdo or use poor technique. Muscles and tendons can get inflamed and painful. In fact, more shoulder injuries are reported among swimmers than pitchers in baseball.
Technique is the answer, of course. And not overdoing it.
Q: You don’t advise using aids like swim paddles?
A: I say they should not be overused because they put additional strain on the shoulder. So do kickboards used with outstretched arms because they can put the shoulders in a weak position.
At the same time, the best thing for arthritic joints is to keep them moving.
Q: And what about knees?
A: This is associated with the frog kick. Warming up and stretching before an aggressive swim session is important, as well as exercises for the hamstrings and legs.
Q: And neck injuries?
A: These are usually caused by incorrect technique. The neck is very mobile and you must be careful not to overuse it and create muscle strain. That means don’t over-rotate when you lift your head to inhale. Rotate the body more so the head remains aligned with the body.
Q: Can you tell me about your common-sense tips for water safety?
A: They’re simple:
• Don’t swim alone.
• Don’t swim when you are tired.
• Perform core strengthening and cross-training exercises before you swim.
• Warm up and stretch before swimming; cool down and stretch after swimming.
• Don’t run in the pool area.
• Don’t dive in shallow water.
Q: They seem like common-sense directions.
A: Swimming is a very healthful activity that uses most of the muscles in the body. Avoid overdoing it and use good technique, and you can enjoy swimming for a lifetime.