Ask Dr. Beacom: Benefits of Team USA Swimmer’s Shoulder Protocol

Dr. Beacom offers Team USA swimmer’s shoulder protocol to local athletes with shoulder injuries.

swimmer's shoulder protocol

No one is more excited about the growth of local swim clubs than sports medicine physician Dr. Amy Beacom. As a former competitive swimmer and Team USA physician for Olympic swimmers, she understands the physical, emotional, and social benefits of participating on a swim team. She also knows that swimmer’s shoulder can bring a young swimmer’s athletic future to an abrupt halt. And she wants to prevent that from happening. That’s why Dr. Beacom, with a team of Summit physical therapists and performance specialists, is adapting the Team USA swimmer’s shoulder protocol for injured swimmers treated at Summit Orthopedics.

Summit offers a comprehensive swim program designed for competitive swimmers

“I’ve been involved in swimming, in one way or another, since the fifth grade,” laughs Dr. Beacom. “And I’m delighted to see Minnesota become a hotbed of competitive swim teams. From the Apple Valley Riptides and Black Lines to the Burnsville Black Dogs, Prior Lake Storms, Eden Prairie AquaJets, and Woodbury’s SEMS swim club, every town has at least one team. These young swimmers develop a positive identity and social circle rooted in their sport.

“We understand that for these young swimmers, swimming is their identity,” says Dr. Beacom. “For many young athletes, their sport is who they are. It follows that when swimmer’s shoulder makes it difficult for them to swim, the results can be devastating. That’s why our team at Summit has developed a comprehensive swimming program. If a swimmer wants to stay in the water, our swimmer’s shoulder protocol will keep them there safely while supporting their recovery. Our dry-land training program conditions young swimmers and helps to prevent injuries like swimmer’s shoulder. And our swimmer’s shoulder protocol, based on the Team USA protocol, corrects the causes of swimmer’s shoulder. We are here to make these athletes better and keep them in the water doing what they love.”

Swimmer’s shoulder is almost never a sign of shoulder damage

“Many parents worry that staying in the water with swimmer’s shoulder will make the shoulder worse or damage it,” says Dr. Beacom. “I want to reassure them. In almost all cases, swimmer’s shoulder pain is not accompanied by shoulder damage. Swimmer’s shoulder is a mechanical issue. If we fix the mechanics, the pain goes away. These swimmers don’t need surgery and there’s no rotator cuff damage. To this day, I have never treated a kid with swimmer’s shoulder who had a rotator cuff tear.

“I’ve seen swimmers with swimmer’s shoulder who were told not to swim,” Dr. Beacom continues. “They stay out of the water and they don’t get better. In my experience as a sports medicine physician with a specialty in this sport, swimmer’s shoulder is not hard to fix. And you don’t have to pull these kids out of the water to make them better.”

Dry-land programs help prevent swimmer’s shoulder before it happens

“A lot of local swimming clubs have dry-land programs to condition and strengthen swimmers outside of the pool,” explains Dr. Beacom. “We are now working with the Woodbury SEMS swim club to handle their dry-land swimming training. Summit performance specialist Max Lipset, our partner at The Power House conduct the training, and my physical therapist, Amanda, supervises functional movement screening. It’s a great preventative strategy because our program teaches swimmers to use their muscles correctly.”

Dr. Beacom notes that one type of exercise is deliberately omitted from Summit’s dry-land program.

  • Running. “Running swimmers is a terrible idea,” states Dr. Beacom. “Most athletes who choose swimming are flexible and loose-jointed. That flexibility makes them good swimmers or dancers or acrobats, but it makes them terrible runners. That’s because the constant pounding hurts loose joints. Swimmers have great cardio engines, but their engines work best in the water because of the way their bodies are built. When you run a swimmer, their powerful cardiovascular engine will enable them to pound hard, but those loose joints are going to fracture and break.”

The Summit swimmer’s shoulder protocol is adapted from Team USA

“Through my work with Olympic swimmers, I work for Dr. Scott Rodeo, the team physician for Team USA Olympic swimmers,” explains Dr. Beacom. “Dr. Rodeo wrote the swimmer’s shoulder protocol for Team USA, and we’ve adopted it into our Summit Orthopedics treatment of swimmer’s shoulder. Our program keeps these kids in the water and uses a series of customized exercises that teach swimmers proper shoulder blade position. In addition to using this protocol for swimmer’s shoulder, some of the exercises have also been incorporated in the dry-land program.”

Swimmer’s shoulder protocol teaches swimmers how to turn on their muscles

“Swimmer’s shoulder happens because there’s something these swimmers aren’t doing right,” explains Dr. Beacom. “They may be dropping their elbow or swimming flat, and pain is going to come after that. If you can fix their form, the pain is not going to come. I charge these kids to talk with their coach, identify the issues, and address them. If physical therapy is appropriate, my therapist, Amanda, uses our swimmer’s shoulder protocol to teach the kids how to turn their muscles on. We guide them through the correct steps and offer them tools to support muscle re-education. Finally, we encourage these athletes to work with their swim coaches to correct form in the water.”

Swimmers with swimmer’s shoulder can stay in the water

“I’ve mentioned this earlier, but I think it’s important: I almost never take swimmers out of the water,” states Dr. Beacom. “If they have swimmer’s shoulder, I’ll have them focus on kicking with their coach. They can kick with a kickboard or with hands at their sides or with fins. That way, they maintain their identity as a swimmer and they’re still in the water with their friends, learning body position. This is really important because swimmers learn intuitively. When they are able to sense their position in the water, it helps them swim faster and progress safely in their sport.

“Our swimmer’s shoulder protocol is designed to safely help your young swimmer recover,” says Dr. Beacom. “But my team is also here to give your kids understanding within context of their world. Sports builds a foundation for character for the rest of their lives. I want parents to know that we see your children and we want to support their safe, healthy development as athletes and as people.”

Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive sports medicine expertise

From Olympians to pro athletes to kids in youth sports and those who just want to be more active—Summit Orthopedics delivers expert care by fellowship-trained sports medicine physicians. If you are recently injured or concerned about ongoing pain, Summit Orthopedics sports medicine specialists have the expertise to evaluate your discomfort and develop a plan to quickly and safely help you get back to being active. 

Start your journey to stronger, healthier athletic condition. Find your sports medicine expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a sports medicine consultation. 

Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MNPlymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.

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