The muscles and tendons of your shoulder joint are called the rotator cuff. These muscles and tendons allow you to move your arm from the shoulder. Irritation caused by overuse or strain can cause pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint. Repetitive movements, such as those performed by swimmers, tennis players and baseball pitchers, can result in rotator cuff injury. Aquatic exercise therapy can help to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles and heal an injured rotator cuff.
Treating Rotator Cuff Injury
Minor rotator cuff strains and sprains usually heal without medical intervention. Rest your shoulder joint by avoiding activities that cause pain or may have caused the injury. Apply ice for 15 minutes every two hours to the affected shoulder for the first two days. Apply heat to your injured shoulder starting on the third day to help relax your sore muscles and tendons. Begin rehabilitative shoulder exercises as soon as it doesn't hurt to move your shoulder to prevent a condition called “frozen shoulder,” which is a stiff joint that you can barely move.
Benefits of Aquatic Exercise
Exercising your rotator cuff muscles in the pool can help to strengthen your muscles and make it less painful when rehabilitating an injured rotator cuff. The buoyancy of the water supports your entire body, including your shoulder and arm. Exercises in the pool are easier to do because gravity has less effect on your body when you are in water. Water also offers resistance to your movements, which is a good way to exercise your muscles with little to zero impact on the joints.
Hand paddles are plastic paddles that attach to your hands. Some hand paddles are worn like gloves with webbed fingers. Hand paddles increase the water resistance when you pull your hand through the water. This increased resistance can help you to improve shoulder rotator cuff strength and increase your shoulder range of motion. Start with small paddles and gradually increase the size of the hand paddles as your shoulder strength increases.
Shallow water exercises can help to strengthen your shoulder muscles while you get a good aerobic workout. Perform standing arm circles in chest-deep water while wearing some waterproof weights on the wrists. Stretch out your arms from the shoulder and make small circles with your arms toward the front and then again toward your back. Do 10 repetitions in each direction. Walk through the pool pumping your arms from the shoulder. Walk back and forth across the pool five times.
- MayoClinic.com: Rotator Cuff Injury
- Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy: Shoulder Muscle Activation During Aquatic and Dry Land Exercises in Nonimpaired Subjects
- Northwest Texas Sports Medicine: The Rotator Cuff - Mechanism of Injury, Testing, and Rehabilitation
- U.S. Masters Swimming: Fitness: Starting a Swimming Routine
- Seacoast Orthopedics and Sports Medicine: Aquatic/Land Clinical Protocol for Impingement Syndrome Rehabilitation
Robin Reichert is a certified nutrition consultant, certified personal trainer and professional writer. She has been studying health and fitness issues for more than 10 years. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of San Francisco and a Master of Science in natural health from Clayton College.