Left Shoulder Tendonitis

edited April 2014 in General Discussion
Hi everyone. Long time lurker here. I searched the forum and I could not find any other threads on this issue and I was hoping to get some information on active recovery. I am signed up for End Wet (the 36 mile marathon swim in June).

I went to the doctor today and got diagnosed with some left shoulder inflammation near by rotator cuff/tendonitis. She told me to take it easy, so I was planning on doing lots of kick sets, maybe some cycling, maybe a few slow and easy swims. Maybe I could try to do 3,000 scy 6 times a week? (maybe like 1,500 of that being kicking)? I also was told to take 2 aleeve twice a day and ice my shoulder twice a day.

Do you know of any good active recovery swim workouts I could do? Usually with my kick sets, I just throw on my Tyr burners and kick for 10 minutes (focusing on technique). I can usually do a 500 yard kick in that time. I really do not want to lose all my edge in the water. I was thinking I could maybe do cycling in the gym instead?

Please, please any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so very much!


  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    Massage & Magic Cups. My doctor was no use when I had severe tendinitis before I really knew what I was doing. Honestly, the magic cups/ice method is fantastic. Ice as often as you like, but especially morning, post swim and night. Honestly, the more ice the better. I might occasionally get a shoulder ache now and couple of days of icing always solves it for me.


  • SpacemanspiffSpacemanspiff Dallas, TexasSenior Member
    I'm surprised @loneswimmer didn't mention the Theraband PT exercises described on his blog. They work.

    About 12 years ago, I got tendonitis about 8 weeks before a swim I'd been training for for months. I went to an ortho, who told me: "stop swimming for 4 weeks and you'll be fine." No freaking way I was doing that. So I did my own research. I think I implemented every strategy I found, including: the aforementioned Theraband exercises; A.R.T. (I think this hurt 10x more than the injury itself--I made involuntarily sounds of anguish during my treatments--but its proponents are fanatical); ice 3x per day (I used a freezable shoulder-molded pack that pitcher's use--CVS) for 30 minutes; ibuprofen 2x per day; acupuncture (first time I tried this); backstroke/breaststroke swims (this should not only help fitness standpoint, but it should also help stabilize the joint); freestyle drills that didn't involve full extension/catch on injured shoulder. The second I felt even the slightest twinge of pain in the water, I stopped immediately.

    4 weeks later, I was 100% (slower, but no pain). Which strategy worked? No idea. Maybe the ortho was right all along and the rest was overkill. Who knows...

    If the same thing happened to me today, I'd go get a steroid injection. There will be strong opposition to this idea, and not unjustified. I wouldn't make a habit out of it, but I did it once a couple of years ago. Instant relief. I got back on the Theraband after that.

    "Lights go out and I can't be saved
    Tides that I tried to swim against
    Have brought be down upon my knees
    Oh I beg, I beg and plead..."

  • danswimsdanswims Portland, ORMember
    Having recovered myself from a pretty raging case of shoulder tendonitis I'm also a fan of the strengthening exercises. The resistance bands gave me elbow tendonitis (was probably overdoing it) so I used more traditional weight exercises such as these. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/PDFs/Rehab_Shoulder_5.pdf
    I also found massage and acupuncture useful and continue with periodic "maintenance" visits.

    Finding a knowledgeable provider to identify muscle imbalances and recommend a customized program would be ideal, but in my experience good luck with that.
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    I think that strengthening and balancing exercises aren't generally recommended as a solution for a currently injured athlete. They're more preventative, like doing regular backstroke. Though the shoulder dislocation with a Theraband (or even a towel or bungee) is always a good exercise for me.


  • malinakamalinaka Seattle, WACharter Member
    Find a good sports physical therapist. Ice and rest is a good treatment if you're the average person doing average things, but you aren't and you aren't. There may be additional things a PT can do to speed your tendinitis recovery. As a bonus, they'll probably point out a few other things for you to be aware of and may help prevent future shoulder injuries and inconvenient downtime.

    Highly, highly recommend speaking with a PT.

    I don't wear a wetsuit; it gives the ocean a sporting chance.

  • Okay, thanks for all the advice.
  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member
    In addition to the suggestions already mentioned, I would strongly advise having a coach look at your stroke or get a friend to take video of you and critique it yourself. Since it's only your left shoulder, there may be something about your stroke that is putting more stress on it.

    I prefer to breathe to my right and I ride on my left arm to sight, so I get some tendonitis pain in my left shoulder from time to time. Although it feels awkward, I've been forcing myself to breathe to the left at least once every 25. I've also been concentrating on keeping my body rotation as symmetrical as possible. It's getting a bit less awkward and my shoulder feels better.

    It felt like an insurmountable challenge to try to modify a stroke that's been working pretty well for me for 40+ years, but as a swimming instructor, I constantly tell people "the great thing about swimming is that because it's a skill, you can keep getting better at it no matter how old you are." I should follow my own advice!

    And yes, cycling is solid cross training for swimming. I definitely swim faster and longer when I spend more time on my bike.

    Good luck on your epic swim!

    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf San FranciscoCharter Member
    wendyv34 wrote:
    In addition to the suggestions already mentioned, I would strongly advise having a coach look at your stroke or get a friend to take video of you and critique it yourself. Since it's only your left shoulder, there may be something about your stroke that is putting more stress on it.

    Definitely recommend this. I was constantly getting right shoulder soreness until the coach at a masters session I dropped into mentioned that I seemed to be entering the water early on my right hand. This was easy to fix once I knew what to look for.

    The only caveat is that my actual stroke coach had failed to spot this because when I was with her I would be concentrating on my technique - so ideally you'd get someone to check you out when you are at your sloppy worst :)

    Good luck on the swim!

    http://notdrowningswimming.com - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer

  • Both my neck issues and left shoulder issues (I only used to breathe to the right) have basically disappeared since changing training (in a 50m pool) to always breathe left doing one length and then right the next. I have carried this over to ows and swap sides every 50 strokes. As a bonus I can now choose which side in ows if conditions dictate it, e.g. chop, sun, etc.

  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    Stroke symmetry in training (if not necessarily racing) does help, in my experience. Paul Newsome of Swim Smooth recently wrote a brilliant article on the subject:

  • JacqueJacque Karlsruhe (Germany)Member

    I got the same problem like @hemlocky-ergot last year just before the beginning of the OW-Racing-season (except it was my right shoulder due to unilateral breathing to my left side). I stopped swimming for a week while the acute pain lasted, icing and Ibuprofene helped, too.
    Maybe it’s just a subjective impression, but I found it most helpful that my PT also taped my shoulder for about two weeks, so the muscles got “pulled” in the other direction to take the pressure of the front of the shoulder. The tape basically did for a couple of weeks what my underdeveloped muscles should have been doing – to help stabilize the shoulder.
    Then – for one week with a taped shoulder – I started with some light workouts with a lot of legwork und a lot more backstroke than before. As for kicking I really liked to get in some change, e.g. each 200 as 4x50 kick with/without fins, legwork of different strokes (fc/backstroke/fly/backfly), kick with/without kickboard to rest your arms on, emphasise fc-kick as 6-beat-kick/2-beat-kick, kick with/without resistance (put the kickboard upright in front of you so it is nearly covered in water an kick against it), kick different speeds like 15 strong/35 easy every 50…
    After about two weeks I was able to train normally again and I also immediately started to strengthen the muscles in the back of my shoulders and to swim at least 10% of backstroke in every single session. Since my PT had also diagnosed muscular dysbalances we worked on that, too; it took about 12 weeks to even things out. Since then my shoulders are fine even though I swim a lot more than ever before, and the only horrible thing left to do is bilateral breathing to prevent future problems. Since I am really struggling with that and I find a lot of creative excuses I really enjoyed the article mentioned above, thank you @evmo!

    Good luck with your swim!
  • Leonard_JansenLeonard_Jansen Charter Member
    If you are like me and can't take NSAID's like ibuprofen (stomach bleeding), the following line of products seems to work pretty well & helps with swelling:



    “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” - Oscar Wilde

  • I joined this forum after lurking for a while from my couch, where I have been recovering from shoulder surgery - a bicep tenodesis and acromion spur removal. So I have some thoughts here.

    I second all the suggestions to find a good physical therapist. However, if you see no improvement whatever after a few weeks, see if you can get an MRI. PT does not fix labels tears, tendonosis (fraying) or a rupture. At that point you need surgery, and the prospects are excellent for a complete recovery.

    If you live in the US, you likely have to do PT first or your insurance won't authorize the MRI or the surgery. But if it doesn't help,you need to know what's going on in there. I had a badly frayed bicep tendon. If I had kept swimming on it, it would have ruptured.

    Hopefully the injury responds to ice, rest, and strengthening of the surrounding muscles. But if it doesn't, GET THE MRI and save yourself a lot of future grief.

  • And I second the point that an even slightly asymmetrical stroke can make shoulder issues worse. Get someone to help you see what you're doing.

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