Elite and competitive swimmers log between 60,000 and 80,000 meters weekly — swimming the length of an Olympic-sized pool 1,200 times — which places significant stress on their shoulder joints. “The upper body provides 90 percent of the propulsive force to move through the water. Due to the amount of force generated and the range of motion required to swim efficiently, the shoulder needs to have perfect mechanics to avoid injury,” says Dr. Elizabeth Matzkin, lead study author of a literature review in the August issue of Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at Harvard Medical School.
Swimming is an endurance sport but “swimmer’s shoulder” — a broad non-medical term often used to describe a variety of shoulder injuries — can affect swimmers at all levels. According to the literature review authors, many shoulder injuries are preventable with proper technique, training, stretching, and strengthening.
Shoulder pain affects 40 to 91 percent of competitive swimmers. Overuse and poor shoulder mechanics can cause muscle imbalances, decreased range of motion of the shoulder, and less efficient swim strokes, all placing athletes at greater risk for further injury. The most common swimming-related injuries include:
Impingement — As swimmers becomes fatigued, the pectoralis muscles (commonly known as “pecs”) compensate for tired muscles, which can cause the peak of the shoulder blade to rub (impinge) against the rotator cuff (tendon and bursa), stress the anterior (front of the body) ligaments, and create tears in the tissue that holds the top of the arm bone in place.
Scapular dyskinesis — Intense, repetitive rotation of the shoulder blade over the chest wall can overstretch and loosen the upper back muscles that keep the shoulder bones in a healthy position. Abnormal shoulder mechanics (scapula dyskinesis) can cause pain near the collarbone when the upper chest muscles tighten to compensate for the loosened upper back muscles.
Glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD) — Intense, repetitive rotation of the shoulder blade can cause the front shoulder ligaments to overstretch and loosen. This can cause the soft tissues and muscles in the back to tighten to compensate for the loosened front shoulder muscles while limiting the internal rotation of the shoulders, which puts swimmers at greater risk for rotator cuff tears. Swimmers must maintain some shoulder looseness to remain competitive. However, about 20 percent of competitive swimmers have hyperlaxity — the ability of joints to move beyond the normal range of motion — which increases the likelihood of greater shoulder instability and susceptibility to pain.
Possible and often subtle signs of shoulder injuries among swimmers may include:
A dropped elbow during the recovery phase of the freestyle stroke.
Excessive body roll, which may signify shoulder pain.
Drooping of the affected shoulder.
“Injury prevention is best accomplished by proper training. Most importantly, swimmers need to stretch, especially the posterior shoulder capsule, and avoid muscle imbalance by strengthening both the rotator cuff and the scapular stabilizer muscle groups,” says Dr. Matzkin. When a swimmer experiences shoulder pain, a thorough physical examination is important to diagnose the source of the pain, whether there is atrophy in the shoulder or reduced strength in the shoulder joint.
Treatment may include nonsurgical (e.g., a combination of ice, stretching, and anti-inflammatory medication, focused rehabilitation to reduce pain) or surgical (e.g., for structural injuries to manage pain rather than to enhance athletic performance) options to potentially prevent future injuries.
Elizabeth Matzkin, Kaytelin Suslavich, David Wes. Swimmer’s Shoulder. Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2016; 24 (8): 527 DOI: 10.5435/JAAOS-D-15-00313
Frozen shoulder, correctly known as Adhesive Capsulitis, presents as a combination of shoulder pain and stiffness causing sleep disturbance and marked disability.
In a frozen shoulder the capsule surrounding the shoulder joint is more thickened than normal and it shrinks, adhering to the humerus (arm bone) and itself – hence the name adhesive capsulitis. It is associated with inflammation, causing pain followed by scarring, causing stiffness.
Clinical features of frozen shoulder
Gradual onset of arm pain.
Unable to lie on affected side.
Restriction of movements, usually into elevation and outward rotation.
Diagnosed by a thorough shoulder examination.
X-rays may rule out other causes of shoulder pain but are unable to diagnose a frozen shoulder.
Runs a distinct course which can be broken into 4 phases or simply “pain-predominant” and “stiffness-predominant”.
Phases of frozen shoulder
Phase 1: Usually pain.
Phase 2: Increasing pain and increasing stiffness but still predominantly pain.
Phase 3: Pain abates, leaving stiffness.
Phase 4: Resolution, usually by 2 years.
Who gets frozen shoulder?
Mostly occurs between ages 40 and 60 years.
More common in women and diabetics.
Often appears for no apparent reason but can stem from an injury to the shoulder or following shoulder surgery.
20% of patients will develop it in the other shoulder in the future but almost never occurs again in the same shoulder.
Common shoulder problems
Unable to: Reach above shoulder height
Throw a ball
Quickly reach for something
Reach behind your back e.g. doing up bra, tucking in shirt
Reach out to the side and behind e.g. reaching for seat belt
Sleep on your side
How can physiotherapy help?
Although a frozen shoulder is generally self-limiting, the aim of physiotherapy is to keep the shoulder joint as pain free and mobile as possible. Physiotherapy may also help reduce the time taken to move through each phase.
Phase 1 & 2- pain relieving techniques such as gentle mobilisation, muscle releases, dry needling, taping.
Phase 3- shoulder joint mobilisation and stretches, muscle release techniques, dry needling and exercises to regain range and strength. Treatment should not be too aggressive.
Phase 4- shoulder mobilisation and stretches followed by strength exercises to control and maintain the returning range of movement.
Dry needling involves the application of very fine sterilised acupuncture needles into muscle and surrounding tissues to assist in the release of myofascial trigger points, reduce tightness and spasm, improve muscle function and relieve pain. It is commonly used as an adjunct to physiotherapy and myotherapy techniques to improve treatment outcomes.
There are two types of Dry Needling, the first called Superficial Dry Needling (SDN) works by inserting the needle only 5-10mm under the skin. Secondarily is Deep Dry Needling (DDN) where the needle is inserted to the depth required to penetrate the targeted myofascial trigger point.
How does it work?
Myofascial trigger points are hyper-irritable, taut bands within muscles, which are painful to touch and can contribute to muscle shortening, weakness and pain (both locally and referred). They often develop following muscle, joint or nerve injury and sometimes persist well after the initial tissue injured has healed. This leads to persistent pain and discomfort.
Dry needling releases these trigger points by encouraging local blood flow to the trigger point and by modulating nerve pathways that erroneously cause them to persist. The needling also stimulates your body’s own endorphin system to provide pain relief and help allow the muscle to relax.
Dry needling can be extremely effective in the treatment of:
Needles used in dry needling are much thinner than those you receive when you see your GP for an injection and so usually cause much less discomfort. This does vary depending on what techniques your therapist uses. You may also experience the very satisfying response of the muscle twanging and releasing quickly. A sure sign of a successful trigger point release.
The initial treatment is conservative to determine the patient’s response. This varies from person to person. It is expected that there will be some post treatment soreness during the first 24-48hrs and sometimes minor bruising is experienced.
What sorts of conditions can Dry Needling be beneficial for?
Dry needling can produce excellent results as an adjunct to standard physiotherapy and manual therapy treatment. It can be used in both acute and chronic painful conditions.
Dry needling can be extremely effective in the treatment of:
Back, neck and shoulder pain
Hand and wrist pain
Tendinopathy pathologies i.e. Tennis elbow, Achilles pain
Many other musculoskeletal injuries (You can discuss dry needling with your therapist to see if it may be useful for your condition)
What is the difference between Dry Needling and Acupuncture?
Dry needling revolves around Western Medicine philosophy and involves inserting needles into muscular trigger points palpated by your therapist and consistent with your area of pain.
Acupuncture is based on ancient Eastern Medicine, with needle placement over specific points along meridian lines or ‘energy’ lines which are thought to associate with particular illness and disease.
An estimated 126.6 million Americans (one in two adults) are affected by a musculoskeletal condition–comparable to the total percentage of Americans living with a chronic lung or heart condition–costing an estimated $213 billion in annual treatment, care and lost wages, according to a new report issued today by the United States Bone and Joint Initiative (USBJI).
Musculoskeletal disorders–conditions and injuries affecting the bones, joints and muscles–can be painful and debilitating, affecting daily quality of life, activity and productivity. “The Impact of Musculoskeletal Disorders on Americans: Opportunities for Action” outlines the prevalence and projected growth of musculoskeletal disorders in the U.S., and recommends strategies for improving patient outcomes while decreasing rising health and societal costs.
“This report provides the critical data needed to understand the magnitude of the problem, and the burden, of musculoskeletal disease in our country,” said David Pisetsky, MD, USBJI president, and professor of medicine and immunology at Duke University Medical School. “The number of visits to physicians for these disorders, the cost of treating them, and the indirect costs associated with pain and loss of mobility, are proportionately much higher than the resources currently being allocated to combat these conditions and injuries.”
“As a nation, we need to establish greater funding for musculoskeletal research, improve our understanding and strategies for prevention and treatment of these injuries and conditions, and ensure that more adults and children receive appropriate treatment sooner, and on an ongoing basis, to ensure quality of life and productivity,” said Stuart L. Weinstein, MD, co-chair of the report’s Steering Committee and a professor of orthopaedics and rehabilitation at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
Prevalence and predictions
According to the report, the most prevalent musculoskeletal disorders are arthritis and related conditions; back and neck pain; injuries from falls, work, military service and sports; and osteoporosis, a loss of bone density increasing fracture risk, primarily in older women. An estimated 126.6 million Americans were living with a musculoskeletal disorder in 2012. More specifically:
•Arthritis is the most common cause of disability, with 51.8 million–half of U.S. adults age 65 and older–suffering from the disease.
•With the aging of the American population, the report projects arthritis prevalence to increase to 67 million people, or 25 percent of the adult population, by 2030.
•Arthritis is not just a disease for older Americans, with two-thirds of arthritis sufferers under age 65.
•Back and neck pain affects nearly one in three, or 75.7 million adults.
•Osteoporosis affects 10 million Americans, with 19 million more (mostly women) at risk for the disease.
•One in two women and one in four men over the age of 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture, and 20 percent of hip fracture patients over age 50 will die within one year of their injury.
Cost and health care impact
The burden of musculoskeletal conditions is significant in terms of treatment and care, as well as the impact upon of quality of life, mobility, and productivity, and resulting in fewer days at work and in school. In 2011, the annual U.S. cost for treatment and lost wages related to musculoskeletal disorders was $213 billion, or 1.4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). When adding the burden of other conditions affecting persons with musculoskeletal conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity, the total indirect and direct costs rose to $874 billion, or 5.7 percent of the GDP in 2015.
Other data on the costs of musculoskeletal diseases and injuries include:
•Eighteen percent of all health care visits in 2010 were related to musculoskeletal conditions, including 52 million visits for low back pain, and 66 million for bone and joint injuries, including 14 million visits for childhood injuries.
•Arthritis and rheumatoid conditions resulted in an estimated 6.7 million annual hospitalizations.
•The average annual cost per person for treatment of a musculoskeletal condition is $7,800.
•The estimated annual cost for medical care to treat all forms of arthritis and joint pain was $580.9 billion, which represented a 131 percent increase (in 2011 dollars) over 2000.
•In 2012, 25.5 million people lost an average of 11.4 days of work due to back or neck pain, for a total of 290.8 million lost workdays in 2012 alone.
•Among children and adolescents, musculoskeletal conditions are surpassed only by respiratory infections as a cause of missed school days.
Opportunities for action
The report provides recommendations to curb the tremendous economic and societal costs of musculoskeletal disorders, including:
•Accelerating research that compares treatment alternatives, develops new treatments and evaluates possible preventative approaches.
•Improving understanding of the role of behavior change in prevention and treatment, including weight loss and self-management of conditions once they arise.
•Ensuring that a higher percentage of the affected population receives access to evidence-based treatments.
•Implementing proven prevention strategies for sports injuries, workplace injuries, and injuries in the military.
•Ensuring that all children with chronic medical and musculoskeletal problems have access to care.
•Promoting better coordination between physicians and other health care providers treating musculoskeletal disorders: primary care physicians, specialists, physical therapists, etc.
•Ensuring that health care providers, especially primary care physicians, have the appropriate training to diagnose, and if necessary, refer patients for appropriate treatment.
•Addressing data limitations, and improve systems, to improve our understanding of these conditions and how best to screen, diagnose and treat them. This includes the impact of sex and gender on musculoskeletal disorders and responses to treatment, and tracking pediatric patients through adulthood to determine the lifelong burden of musculoskeletal disease.
“If we continue on our current trajectory, we are choosing to accept more prevalence and incidence of these disorders, spiraling costs, restricted access to needed services, and less success in alleviating pain and suffering — a high cost,” said Edward H. Yelin, PhD, co-chair of the report’s steering committee, and professor of medicine and health policy at the University of California, San Francisco. “The time to act to change this scenario to one with more evidence-based interventions and effective treatments, while simultaneously focusing on prevention, doing better by our society and economy, is now.”
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. “One in two Americans have a musculoskeletal condition: New report outlines the prevalence, scope, cost and projected growth of musculoskeletal disorders in the U.S..”