Water polo is the most physically demanding sport amongst NCAA college athletics. As a certified athletic trainer and exercise scientist, I have first hand experience with an NCAA Division II water polo team. The sport is physically demanding, utilizing both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems of the human body. I would like to take this time to specifically talk about water polo injuries.
The areas most commonly injured are the shoulder, spine, and knee. Most of these injuries arise from either overuse or, more importantly, developmental structural abnormalities. I frequently observed water polo players displaying a forward head and rounded shoulders posture. There are several theories associated with the development of this posture: (1) tightness of the pectoral is major or minor (2) weakness in the scapular stabilizers (3) overdevelopment of the latissimus dorsi and (4) over activation of the abdominals. Whatever the case may be, a proper and individual strength and conditioning program can prevent the aforementioned structural abnormalities from occurring.
The shoulder complex is a very unique joint complex. The glenohumeral joint displays the greatest range of motion of any joint in huge human body and has only one attachment to the trunk, the sternoclavicular ligament. This means that muscles are primarily responsible for stabilization of this joint. The shoulder complex is primarily stabilized at the scapular or shoulder blade by the mid and lower trapezius and the serratus anterior. These muscles work in conjunction increase range of motion at the shoulder. If these muscles do not work properly, this can lead to rotator cuff tendinopathy, biceps tendinopathy, or injury to the labrum. All of these injuries are likely to occur in the overhead throwing athlete. Most athletes can generate power with the shoulder but very few can properly stabilize during submaximal efforts. To train these muscles and prevent the possibility of shoulder injury takes more than doing rows or pull ups. It takes the neurocognitive ability to think and contract the appropriate muscle at the appropriate time.
In my experience as an athletic trainer, it is inevitable that an elite athlete will at some point get an injury. I recommend that if you want to become an elite level athlete that you (1) train under a certified strength and conditioning specialist (possibly with water polo background) (2) properly fuel your body for activity through eating right and (3) to own your sport from warm-up, competition, and cool-down.
Christopher Jamero MS, ATC, CES
Graduate Assistant Athletic Trainer
Fresno Pacific University