Apex Performance Centre

Swimming and Knee Injuries

Breaststroker's Knee Pain

Breaststroker's Knee Pain

Why Do My Knees Hurt After Swimming?

Most people think of swimming as a safe low injury sport but injuries do occur. Knee pain after swimming is very common, especially for competitive swimmers, ranking second only to shoulder pain. Swimmer’s knee is a condition experienced by swimmers when performing breast stroke or other strokes involving the whip-kick, often referred to as breaststroker’s knee. This motion causes pain on the inner part of the knee, and when done repetitively this can cause inflammation, and soft tissue injuries – sprains and strains.

A major study of the Canadian Olympic Team illustrated the problem:

Medial Collateral Ligament Knee Sprain” These authors also reported a survey of the major swimming programs in Canada, in 1978; in which 261 out of 2,496 swimmers reported an orthopedic complaint, an incidence of approximately 10%. Knee pain occurred in 70 out of these 261 swimmers, or 27%. All 70 of the swimmers who reported knee pain were breaststroke swimmers.”

Structures Involved

The structure most often damaged as a result of repetitive strain on the medial knee is the medial collateral ligament. The MCL is a ligament involved in stabilizing the inner part of the knee throughout its range of motion. It is a thick ligament so its different bands can act as restraints at different points in the motion. Since the MCL has a close relationship with the medial meniscus and ACL, a medial collateral ligament injury can predispose other structures to injury.

Causes of Swimmer’s Knee

The cause of swimmers knee injury is most often poor technique with the whip kick. If the swimmer is lacking strength in the muscles crossing the knee-joint (typically the hip adductors and abductors) this will lead to instability in the knee during the stroke and put strain on the medial collateral ligament. Symptoms present as pain on the inner knee associated with kicking in swimming, squatting, climbing stairs and even turning over in bed.

Is Breaststroke Bad For My Knees?

The short answer is no, not if your technique is sound. As we explained above, poor technique with the whip-kick is most often the culprit.

Will Wearing A Knee Brace Help?

A quick search for “swimmer’s knee brace” will reveal a variety of devices being sold to help with knee pain from swimming, ranging from elastic sleeves to more rigid braces. Regardless of the style, they are all designed to restrict movement to a greater or lesser degree. Because braces are not designed to treat the underlying causes of knee pain from swimming, we do not recommend their use. Use of a brace also carries with it the risk of injuring other body parts through forced alteration of technique.


The good news is this injury will heal, it just takes some manual therapy and specific exercises to correct any muscles imbalances and help you get back on track. Typically repetitive strain injuries such as these take 8-12 weeks to heal, although improvements will start to be felt within a couple of treatments.

Beyond treatment for the existing injury, you’ll want to deal with the most common underlying problems and correct them. Improper technique, performed repetitively over an extended period of time is the most common cause of swimmer’s knee. The whip kick motion, if not bio-mechanically sound, can subject the knee to external rotation forces which can cause strain over time. Part of therapy should be to correct this and develop a bio-mechanically sound technique.

How Apex Can Help


Functional Movement Systems

Treating Knee Pain From Swimming

Apex therapists are experts in posture and movement analysis and have experience working with athletes. We’ll assess your injury and look at the way you do functional activities (squats, lunges, running, swimming motions, etc) to determine what training errors are occurring and how to improve your technique to lower the chances of another injury.

Often there is a muscle imbalance somewhere that needs to be corrected so stress on the inner knee can be offloaded. Once therapists determine the cause, they will set up an individualized exercise plan, keeping in mind the demands of your sports. Greatest success is achieved when treatment involves a variety of modalities. We’ll also help you to design an exercise and stretching routine that will help to prevent this injury from occurring again in the future.


Call For An Appointment