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Safety Tips: Swimming and Diving

Swimming and diving are fun, but swimming a lot can lead to repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) (also called overuse injuries) and diving injuries can be serious.

To keep things as safe as possible for swimming and diving season, follow these tips.

Why Are Swimming and Diving Safety Important?

Depending on the stroke, overuse injuries are common in swimming. Swimmers who do a lot of freestyle, butterfly, or backstroke can get “swimmer’s shoulder.” Swimmer’s shoulder affects the tendons of the rotator cuff, the group of muscles that support the shoulder. Knee and hip injuries are more common with breaststroke kicking, while butterfly kicking can lead to lower back problems.

If you’re a diver, hitting the diving board can leave you with scrapes, cuts, bruises, and broken bones. Hitting your head on a diving board or the bottom of the pool can cause a head injury, permanent spinal cord damage, paralysis, and even death. And if you are knocked out in the pool, you could possibly drown.

Gearing Up

You’ll need a pool and your team’s swimsuit, obviously, but here are few other things to think about:

  • Goggles. Swimming with leaky, uncomfortable, or foggy goggles can be tough on your eyes. Be sure to get a pair of competition or practice goggles that are comfortable and fit your face. Some swimmers like to have different goggles for practices and competitions.
  • Swimsuits. Choose a swimsuit based on what’s most important to you. If you want something that will help you go faster, research brand names and see if they can back up the claims they make. If you want a suit for practice, choose something made with quality materials that will last awhile.
  • Swim caps. Most swim caps are made from latex or silicone. As with swimsuits, choose a cap based on your needs. In general, latex caps are thinner and less expensive, and silicone caps are usually thicker, last longer, and cost more. If you’ll be spending a lot of time in a warm pool, a silicone cap might keep your head too warm.
  • Ear plugs and nose clips. Some swimmers like to use these to help keep water out of their ears and noses. Ear plugs should be specifically designed for use in the water. (Noise-canceling earplugs won’t make a watertight seal.) Nose clips should fit comfortably and stay securely in place as you swim.

Before You Hit the Pool

Getting yourself in shape before the swimming season starts will help you be a better swimmer or diver and make injuries less likely to happen. Start working out and eating right a few months before the season begins. Better yet, exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet year-round, and then you won’t need to worry about being in shape for the season.

If you like to cross-train in the preseason, include exercises that help strengthen the muscles of your back and abdomen. A strong core and related muscles can help prevent the imbalances that can lead to overuse injuries.

If you’ll be doing more swimming than you’re used to due to increased practice time, or if you’re going to start swimming longer distances, build up to the extra time or distance gradually. Studies show that increasing the time or distance all at once can make injuries more likely.

While You Swim or Dive

Always use good stroke technique when you swim. This will reduce the stress on your joints that can lead to overuse injuries. If you get tired or have pain at practice, stop swimming and get out of the pool. Swimming when you’re tired or have pain can make you use poor swimming technique.

To help keep your goggles on during a racing start, tuck your chin to your chest before you hit the water.

When diving, be sure to the pool is deep enough and jump well away from the board and stay clear of pool walls to avoid head injuries.

A Few Other Reminders

  • If you feel pain in your shoulder or elsewhere, take time off from training that causes pain. This can mean swimming a different stroke or doing something else out of the pool to stay in shape. You can go back to your regular stroke after the pain is gone.
  • To help prevent swimmer’s ear — an infection of the ear canal — dry your ears thoroughly with a clean towel after swimming or showering. Consider using water drying ear drops after you’ve finished swimming for the day. (But don’t use these drops if you have ear tubes or a hole in your eardrum.)
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water before, during, and after practices and matches.
  • For outdoor practices and meets, wear water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Reapply the sunscreen every 1 to 2 hours. If you’re not sure you’re putting on enough, switch to sunscreen with a higher SPF, like SPF 30.
  • If another swimmer does something you disagree with, don’t take it personally, and never start a fight with another swimmer.

If you use the right stroke technique and take a break if you are feeling pain, chances are you won’t get injured while swimming. Keep safety in mind when you’re diving, and you’re not likely to get hurt doing that either.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: June 2015