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 Want to swim like Schooling? (Singapore Health Issue, January-February 2018, Pg 19)

01 Jan 2018

Singapore Health

Swimming may be a low-impact sport, but it can also lead to injuries. Apart from learning proper technique, it’s important not to overexert and to warm up first.

After Joseph Schooling’s 100m butterfly Olympic gold last year, interest in learning the stroke jumped. But it is a hard style – if not the hardest – to master.

Poor technique can lead the casual swimmer to suffer injuries. Besides developing pain or injury known as butterfly back – so called because the swimmer incorrectly uses the strength of his back to lift his upper back out of the water – swimmers can also sustain injury to the shoulders and knees, said Mr Joel Toh, Physiotherapist, Singapore General Hospital.

Poor technique aside, poor posture and overexertion (swimming too long and too hard) can also strain and tear
muscles and tendons of the joints, said Mr Toh, who sees patients with swimming-related injuries.

“The casual or recreational swimmer might have bad posture to start with. He might also lack flexibility and range of movement in the shoulders and arms. So when he does certain strokes, he might start to overstrain those areas,” he said.

In freestyle or the front crawl, the body – as well as the shoulder, torso and hips – needs to rotate. If the swimmer lacks flexibility and has poor range of movement, executing the movements repeatedly can strain the joints, leading to inflammation and pain of the shoulders and back.

It isn’t just the difficult styles that can lead to problems. When doing the breast stroke – the easiest to learn – the body has to remain fairly straight to avoid getting a painful back. But amateur swimmers tend to hunch or arch their backs.

When a patient is referred to Mr Toh, he assesses the nature and severity of the injury before deciding on treatment. For instance, for stiff joints, stretching might be recommended to help increase flexibility. He might also suggest using weights later for strengthening. If the injury is due to strain, the patient might be asked to lay off swimming for a while and do other types of exercises first.

“Sometimes the patient comes to us with what seems like swimming-related problems such as elbow, shoulder or back pain. But afer assessing him, we might find that they are not actually due to swimming,” he said.

Patients are asked to lie down and perform the strokes used when swimming as a way of identifying the problems. “We are not coaches, so we can only observe how the patient air paddles,” Mr Toh said, adding that if the technique is obviously wrong, one recommendation might be to suggest the patient work on his swimming technique with an instructor.

People often forget that although swimming is a low-impact sport, but as with any sporting activity, a 10-minute pre-exercise warm-up is necessary to lower the risk of strain and injury.

“Warming up increases the heart rate, prepares the joints and muscles for the activities to be done, and prevents injuries,” said Mr Toh, recommending a combination of stretching and dynamic exercises to be done. Dynamic warm-up exercises include arm swings, shoulder circles, leg swings, lunges and jogging on the spot to increase the heart rate.

He warns new swimmers not to let enthusiasm get the better of their ability and over-exercise, noting that studies have reported that an increase in distance or intensity led to shoulder pain.

“There is no guideline on the number of laps one should swim unless one is in a training programme. But new swimmers should start slowly, building up frequency and intensity along the way,” Mr Toh said.

Following the FITT (frequency, intensity, time and type) principle for exercise is one sensible way of avoiding injury. For instance, start by swimming once a week, doing a variety of strokes slowly for 10 minutes.

“Done properly,” he noted, “swimming is good for the whole body, and as a low-load activity, it is also good for the elderly.”

Warm up before taking the plunge

Jumping jacks
Stand with your legs together and your arms at the side. Jump and raise your arms overhead to a clap, spreading your legs wide. Jump again and return your legs and arms to the original position. Repeat for 1 minute.

Butt kicks
Kick your legs up to your butt as you jog on the spot. Do this for 1 minute.

Arm circles
Raise your arms to shoulder level. Rotate your arms forward – then backwards – in circles for 30 seconds each direction.

Start by standing straight. Take a step forward with one leg and lower hips until both legs are at 90 degree angles. Make sure the front knee is directly above your foot, and the other knee isn’t touching the ground. Return to starting position. Repeat 10 times each leg.

Stretch after swimming

Front shoulder stretch
Standing straight, clasp both hands behind your back. Keep your arms straight, and slowly lift them up as high as you can. Hold stretch for 30 seconds, repeat 3 times.

Rear shoulder stretch
Standing with back straight, cross one arm over your chest at shoulder level. Using the other arm, gently pull arm towards chest until you feel the stretch.

Quadriceps stretch
Standing with back straight, pull one ankle to bring the heel towards the buttock. Hold stretch for 30 seconds,
repeat 3 times.

Read the original article here

By: Desmond Ng

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Last Modified Date :11 Jan 2018