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How To Recover From Acute Injuries After A Triathlon

acute triathlon related injuries and how to recover

Triathlon competition involves three different sports — swimming, cycling, and running. So, there are many ways triathletes can overuse their bodies and ultimately get injured. The secret to minimizing the time taken to heal from an injury is to detect it early. 

Acute injuries like crashing on your bike or tripping your ankle on a rock are easier to identify as your body parts will hurt. However, for chronic injuries, it’s difficult to pinpoint when they begin since they start as a minor irritation, you can assume.

As stated earlier, the first step to treating acute injuries is identifying them early enough before they escalate. Since your body produces some warning signs when injured, paying attention and attending to them as quickly as possible is essential.

Acute Injury Warning Signs

It’s easy to adopt the perspective of pushing through an injury because athletes have pride in pushing through painful races and strenuous workouts. However, the overuse of an injury can potentially lead to significant problems in the future. If you experience some of the symptoms below, consult your doctor. 

These signs include:  

  • Pain that makes it impossible to fall or stay asleep 
  • Noticing a limp or a hitch in your stroke when pedaling or swimming to prevent pain 
  • Experiencing pain when starting your workouts or after the workouts 
  • Any swelling around your joints 
  • Reduced motion 
  • Overly stiff body 
  • Tingling or numbness 

Common Triathlon Injuries And How To Treat Them

Here are some of the common sports injuries that triathletes and multisport athletes encounter and how to treat them:

Swimming Injuries

Due to continued shoulder movement, common swim injuries occur at the shoulders. The primary injuries include shoulder impingement and shoulder bursitis.  

triathlon swimming injuries

Shoulder Impingement

Also known as impingement syndrome, shoulder impingement is one of the most common shoulder injuries. It occurs when a part of your shoulder blade and rotator cuff rubs internally with movement.

Like scapular winging injuries, impingement involves a group of muscles that extend from the scapula shoulder blade to your humerus, upper arm bone, and the tendons in your rotator cuff.

Its symptoms include pain when lifting the arm, reduced range of motion, shoulder weakness, stiffness, pain when reaching your back, or pain lying on the affected shoulder.  

Shoulder Bursitis

Shoulder bursitis or a swimmer’s shoulder is an inflammation of the bursa that sits under your acromion. Bursa is a fluid-filled sac that lubricates the rotator cuff’s tendons. Like impingement, a swimmer’s shoulder is an overuse injury due to overhead rotation in swimming. Common symptoms include pain and tenderness, especially when raising your arms, and a decreased range of motion.

How To Recover

The treatment for shoulder impingement and swimmer’s shoulder aims to eliminate pain and inflammation and restore shoulder function. Treatment includes;  

  • Applying ice to the shoulder for 20 minutes thrice a day  
  • Resting your shoulder by avoiding motions that move it until the pain decreases  
  • Use of pain relievers like ibuprofen or naproxen if approved by the doctor  

However, physical therapy is the essential treatment for shoulder injuries. Here, the therapist prescribes some stretching exercises to enhance the range of motion, and as the pain lessens, you can start strengthening exercises to improve your shoulder muscles.  

Also, surgery is considered if the above measures don’t relieve your pain. A surgery known as arthroscopic shoulder decompression, or subacromial decompression, removes parts of the acromion to generate space for the rotator cuff.  

Cycling Injuries

Unlike swimming, cycling injuries from the bike don’t occur in just one body part. They can manifest and affect multiple body parts. The common injuries related to biking are:

Knee Injury

Most knee injuries occur due to pressure and overuse placed on the knee during rides. A time trial bike or triathlon bike can put cyclists in a compromised position that can cause improper technique and inevitable injuries. In turn, poor technique and lack of fitness can also increase the chances of knee pain. Common knee injury symptoms include severe knee pain, swelling, tenderness, and reduced range of motion.  

Treating Knee Injury

Often, a runner’s knee recovers on its own with time and treatment targeting the causes of the injury. You can also consider the following to relieve pain and speed up the recovery process if you have a knee injury:  

  • Learn to rest your knee and avoid activities that worsen the pain of your knee, like squatting, running, sitting, standing, and lunging for a long time  
  • Ice your knee to reduce swelling and pain. Place the ice on the knee for about 20-30 minutes four times a day until the pain is gone.  
  • Wrap your knee using patellar straps, elastic bandage, voodoo floss bands, or sleeves to keep it supported  
  • Perform stretching and strengthening exercises to reduce pain and improve the range of motion. A physical therapist can help you with this.
  • Take pain relievers like ibuprofen or naproxen if approved by the doctor.

If your knee still hurts after using the above strategies, visit your doctor for further advice.

Neck And Lower Back Injuries 

Most neck and lower back injuries result from poor bike fit, posture, and technique. These muscle imbalances are rectifiable through strength and flexibility training.

The common symptoms include pain, muscle stiffness, tingling, and fatigue.

How To Recover from Cycling Injuries

Building and conditioning core stability is one way to improve and prevent lower back pain and spine injuries. Additionally, resting your body for a few days to calm the pain and swelling can do wonders. 

Avoid heavy lifting activities or twisting your neck or back to speed up the recovery. You may also visit a physical therapist for a piece of comprehensive advice on the best exercises to strengthen your neck and lower back.

Running Injuries

Of all the disciplines, running causes many injuries, including shin pain, shin splints, stress fractures, patellofemoral pain, plantar fasciitis, and heel pain. Many of these injuries are caused by inadequate warm-up, inappropriate cadence, overuse, and insufficient recovery.

To prevent or recover from these injuries, get enough rest and avoid strenuous activities. Perform gentle stretching and consider visiting a physical therapist or a massage therapist. You can also use over-the-counter medications to reduce pain and swelling.


Whether you’re an amateur or professional, it’s natural to be injured from time to time. Fortunately, you can treat minor injuries at home using the R.I.C.E. method—rest, ice, compress, elevate. If the injuries persist, visit your doctor immediately for further treatment.

Head of Content at Better Triathlete | Website

Endurance athlete, professional off-road cyclist, and avid blogger, Tyler Tafelsky participates in long-course multisport and cycling events. Today, Tyler competes in ultra-distance cycling races at the professional level. Since starting Better Triathlete in 2014, he has been the head of content for the site's editorial team. Learn more about Tyler