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The exercise and sport of swimming is often cited as the most perfect exercise for anyone at any age.
It’s hard to argue with this statement for the simple fact that it helps improve cardio, flexibility and strength but …
What many individuals are unaware of is the dangers of using specific strokes which are hard on the elbow.
Here’s the thing:
There is a condition called swimmers elbow which can be brought to the “surface” when performing certain swimming styles and strokes.
In some instances, individuals could already have an existing elbow problem and swimming simply makes their pain worse.
The fantastic thing about this form of exercise and sport and for many, the reason why they do it, is because it is a joint friendly exercise.
Often in rehabilitation of any kind of injury whether it be post surgery or for strengthening purposes, swimming is great because the water supports your joints eliminating the chance of re-injury.
Swimming promotes flexibility, strength and cardio all at the same time so you think you are safe right?
Here’s what I mean:
3 of the most popular swimming strokes – the Butterfly, Freestyle and Backstroke are not elbow friendly.
Any one of these 3 can overtime cause an injury to your elbow known as swimmers elbow, which is sometimes referred to as tennis or golfers elbow – depends on which side of your elbow is hurting.
Pain on the inside of your elbow = golfers elbow.
Outer elbow pain = tennis elbow.
Avoid the following 3 Swim Strokes When You Are In the Pool
1) The Butterfly Swimming Stroke
This swim stroke is used mostly by experienced, advanced and powerful swimmers.
It is used mostly in competition.
To confidently pull this To perform this swim stroke correctly, you need a lot of power and strength.
Pulling your arms up out of the water in a windmill motion is not so easy.
Now put that together and combine that with the dolphin kick of your legs and you are ready off to the races.
But here’s the kicker:
The force required to pull your arms up out of the water and then crashing back down into the water at high speeds is extremely hard on your elbow tendons.
Your elbow joints and tendons go from being supported by the water, to out of the water (not supported) and then back into the water.
Overtime, the repetitive nature of this swimming stroke combined with the severe water impact and slapping of your hands can cause swimmers, golfers and/or tennis elbow.
2) The Freestyle Swimming Stroke
The freestyle or front crawl is the popular swimming stroke you see in the water.
You see this a lot in long distance swimmers or by individuals doing laps in lanes at your local pool.
Despite the ease at which this swimming style can be learned, it requires much endurance and competent cardio conditioning.
How problems in your elbow arise with this type of swimming style is the bending of your elbow and wrist as it comes out of the supported water and crashing down into the water with much force and speed.
The faster you swim, the harder this stroke is on your elbow.
If you must use this swimming stroke, try to slow your speed down and see if this decreases the pain in your elbow.
3) The Back Stroke
Not often seen in your local swimming pool, the back stroke is used mainly in competitive swimming arenas.
To do this stroke correctly, you are on your back and start by alternating your arms overhead with a windmill type of movement while kicking your feet.
Individuals using this form of stroke, opt for one of two forms of arm actions:
1) Bent arm – This is the most dangerous and strenuous on your elbows but usually provides the most speed for the swimmer.
2) Straight arm pull – Used when you just want to cruise the pool and are not in a race. Easier to learn and less taxing on your elbow.
Avoid the bent arm altogether if you must do the back stroke.
What about an elbow support or brace for your hurting elbow?
The thing about these devices is that they are only meant to be used for a couple of hours at a time and only when using your affected arm for repetitive tasks.
What about the use of paddles? Are they safe to use?
If you have swimmers elbow, I recommend you avoid using paddles in the pool.
While they are good to help build up endurance and strength, they create more force and friction in the water, which in turn puts more strain on your already injured elbow.
Which swim stroke is the safest when you have elbow pain?
Stick with the breast stroke.
It is the go to stroke if you have any inner or outside elbow pain.
The reason being is that your elbow stays supported because your arms never come out of the water.
A supported elbow is a happy and pain free elbow!
Can you successfully treat your swimmers elbow without having to stay out of the water?
Finally some good news!
If you want to continue taking a dip in the pool, whether it be for competitive or recreational purposes, you can do so if you are willing to follow and implement a home treatment program for your elbow injury.
As I mentioned earlier, swimmers, golfers and tennis elbow are nearly identical injuries, only difference being the location of your injury.
There is a self-treatment program for tennis elbow that works like gangbusters and the best part is that it is even Doctor trusted and approved.
Of course if you take perhaps 6 months away from the pool and do nothing, your elbow pain will most likely decrease and even go away.
But who really wants to do that?
Definitely not competitive swimmers or older people who rely on swimming as part of their daily exercise regime.
The key is to start treatment ASAP.
And now you can do this at your own pace in the comfort of your own home.
Take a quick peak at this instructional video where you will get 5 easy-to-follow steps you can do right now to help stop your elbow pain quickly.
is the author of Tennis Elbow Secrets Revealed which has been teaching individuals how to overcome their tennis elbow injury at home since 2005 with over 1,767,986 copies sold.
He is a Certified Personal Fitness Trainer and Exercise Rehab Specialist based in Vancouver, BC, Canada