Common Swimming Injuries: Swimmer’s shoulder, breaststroker’s knee, and Patellofemoral pain.

Common Swimming Injuries: Swimmer’s shoulder, breaststroker’s knee, and Patellofemoral pain.

Written by: Anthony Chen, BKin, MPT
Registered Physiotherapist
North Burnaby Physiotherapy and Wellness

Suns Out, Trunks Out!

Now that summer is fast approaching and the weather has been getting warmer, many are heading to the pools to either cool off from the heat or swim some laps for that summer bod. Regardless of your reason, it’s important to be aware of some common swimming injuries and how to prevent them so you can maximize your time in the water this summer.

The top 3 swimming injuries that I have seen both as a physiotherapist and a swimmer/coach include: swimmer’s shoulder, breaststroker’s knee, and patellofemoral pain.

Swimmer’s shoulder is essentially a shoulder impingement described as an overuse injury involving inflammation in the supraspinatus and/or biceps tendon, usually caused by shoulder instability (Kammer et al., 1999). This can be due to a variety of issues including imbalanced shoulder muscles and poor stroke biomechanics (ie. improper recovery stroke, hand entry, body position, etc.). Pain with swimmer’s shoulder can be felt most when lifting your arm out in a snow angel fashion between 60-120 degrees – this is otherwise known as the ‘painful arc’. Prevention of this injury can be done by stretching out tight muscles and strengthening weak ones, typically around the rotator cuff. For those swimming numerous laps, it would be highly recommended to seek the advice of a physio with a swimming background to improve any poor stroke mechanics that may be continually irritating your shoulders.

Breaststroker’s knee is typically a medial collateral ligament sprain that, as its name suggests, has a greater incidence among breaststroke swimmers (Wanivenhaus et al., 2012). It usually occurs as a result of high valgus loads on the medial collateral ligament during whip kick. Imbalanced muscles and poor stroke biomechanics are potential culprits here as well. If you are experiencing any pain on the inside part of your knee when swimming breaststroke, you may be kicking too wide or even too narrow.

Patellofemoral pain is an umbrella term for knee pain that is usually felt behind the kneecap. It can occur due to poor patellar tracking, overuse of quadriceps, and again, imbalanced muscles. For those swimming high volumes or competitively, patellofemoral pain can arise from flutter kicks, flip turns, and starts. Prevention for this issue usually involves stretching and strengthening the quads and ensuring proper kicking biomechanics.

As with other sports and physical activity, proper warm up and cooldown are also crucial to enjoying an injury-free swimming session. Should you be having any issues with any of your strokes while swimming, give us a call at our Burnaby Physiotherapy Clinic 604 298-9048 or visit us online to access our online booking software as it is always better to treat the problem earlier than later!


Kammer, C. S., Young, C. C., & Niedfeldt, M. W. (1999). Swimming injuries and illnesses. The Physician and sportsmedicine27(4), 51-60.

Wanivenhaus, F., Fox, A. J., Chaudhury, S., & Rodeo, S. A. (2012). Epidemiology of injuries and prevention strategies in competitive swimmers. Sports health4(3), 246-251.