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Fitness & Sports

Swimming with Neck Pain: Assessing & Addressing the Problem

The number one cause of neck pain in swimmers is faulty stroke technique. By performing the stroke incorrectly, your entire body is thrown out of alignment and forced to make unnatural movements. And because the anatomy of the neck is so complex, occasional or chronic neck pain can manifest itself in the form of shoulder, back, upper arm, or even lower arm pain. Overtime, unchecked neck strain can also lead to headaches that can severely impede training.

If you’ve recently started experiencing neck pain, the best way to tell where it’s coming from is to ask a coach or a trusted swimming friend to take a look at your head and body alignment while in the water. Have them look for subtle movements in head alignment when facing towards the bottom of the pool, as well as overturning while breathing. These two actions are often the cause of swimmers’ neck pain.

Besides getting a coach or friend to check for misalignment issues, there are a few things that you can do yourself to relieve yourself of neck pain, both in and out of the water.

Turn With Your Core

Neck pain can occur when swimmers start relying more on their upper body than their lower body to rotate from side to side. By utilizing or even strengthening core muscles to both turn and breathe from side to side, you can take a lot of the stress off your upper arms and neck. Utilizing core muscles when swimming can not only lead to immediate relief from occasional neck pain, but can also increase strength and overall stroke efficiency.

Imagine Your Center Axis

It can be quit hard to fine tune body alignment, even with the help of a coach or knowledgable swimming partner. One of the best ways to visualize proper body and head alignment is to imagine that a stiff rod runs through your body from head to toe. In order to turn from side to side, you must do so on this center axis. This image should help remind you to turn from side to side with your entire body, instead of just forcing the upper body awkwardly to the side.

Bilateral Breathing

Sometimes neck pain occurs when a swimmer heavily relies on one side to breathe from. Constantly turning to just one side can put a lot of stress on the neck and shoulder muscles. Learning to breathe bilaterally can help ease sore, stiff neck muscles.

Use Kickboards in Moderation

Like any swim training device, kickboards should be used in moderation. This is especially true if you find yourself with a nagging case of neck pain. Because kickboard drills often require you to keep your head unnaturally high in the water, they can place extra strain on the neck and shoulder muscles. Healthy swimmers should have no problem continuing use with the training devices, but injured swimmers might want to seek out a low-buoyancy kickboard, or discontinue use altogether.

Look for Causes Outside the Pool

While swimming might be the main cause of your neck pain, various dryland activities and habits may exacerbate muscle soreness. If you spend a lot of time on the phone, try to switch the phone from ear to ear occasionally. Or, better yet, use a headset to avoid neck strain altogether. Be sure that your desk or computer chair is at the proper height and supports your upper body properly. Carrying a heavy purse, gym bag or briefcase on only one side can also put strain on the shoulders and neck. Stick to evenly distributed backpack style bags if you’re experiencing neck pain.

Rest Aching Muscles

Of course, the best thing you can do to help your neck muscles heal is to give them plenty of rest. This might mean missing a few sessions in the pool, but your neck and shoulders will thank you in the long run. Along with ample rest, ice is always great for inflamed muscles. And relaxing, medium pressure massages can help work out kinks and increase circulation to help speed up recovery time.

Lizzy Bullock