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by Chris Ritter

February 29, 2016

A unique approach to healing injuries that don’t require surgery

If you train and compete long enough in any sport, you’ll likely experience minor, chronic injury at some point. Injuries in a noncontact sport such as swimming are often the result of inadequacy in one of three areas: mechanics, posture, or strength.

Although injury is a near-universal concern, how we choose to handle it is an individual journey. Many swimmers will keep training during an injury. They might kick a little more or change up how much of a certain stroke they do, but really not change anything. Most continue on in hopes that the injury will resolve itself.

The problem with this approach is that, although the symptoms might subside during the recovery period, the root issue has probably not been properly addressed. Therefore, when you go back to a routine, the injury reappears. This starts a sometimes maddening cycle of being injured and then somewhat healed.

Recently I heard Stuart McGill, the director of the Spine Biomechanics Laboratory at the University of Waterloo in Ontario speak of a middle-of-the-road concept he terms “virtual surgery.” He recommends this approach only when surgery is not absolutely necessary, as it would be to repair a tear, for example.

When pursuing a virtual surgery approach to healing a swim injury, pick a starting date as your “surgery date,” and from then on, rest. Don’t swim for a set period of time, just as you wouldn’t if you’d gone under the knife. Then, after that initial zero-activity period, start with some basic rehabilitation exercises. Slowly build your body up and concentrate on and address any inadequacies in the aforementioned three areas: mechanics, posture, and strength.

Over time, increase the intensity of your rehabilitation and slowly ease back into swim training. At this point, if you’ve rested and addressed root causes of the injury, there’s a good chance that the injury will not reappear.

Again, this approach is only for injuries that don’t require surgery, so be sure you’ve been evaluated by a physician to determine the extent of your injury.

Injuries are never convenient, but minor ones that don’t require surgery can provide you with a new starting point to rebuild your mechanics, posture, and strength.


  • Technique and Training
  • Health and Nutrition


  • Injury
  • Recovery
  • Sports Medicine
  • Rehabilitation