Swimmers can work back into full strength while recovering from a foot or leg fracture
Fractures to lower legs and feet can be excruciating. The recovery process is also painful and can be a hassle with a giant cast. The process becomes more liberating when the pain slowly goes away, the doctor orders the cast to be removed, and recommends a walking boot. But can someone get back in the pool while wearing a boot?
The quick answer is usually yes, but probably not while actually wearing the boot.
Megan Lassen is a U.S. Masters Swimming Level 4 coach who has personally dealt with this issue twice in 2019 alone. After a fibula fracture in December 2018, she was in a cast until it was replaced with a boot in February.
“As soon as they put me in a boot I asked, ‘Can I get in the pool?”” Lassen says.
Once she was cleared to get back in the pool, the first thing she did was walk up to the pool, remove her boot and gently get in the water. Pools have long been recommended as a great means of therapy in rehabilitation. The weightlessness of the water helps athletes—and surgery patients in general—work their way back to full strength.
Getting back to full strength in the pool takes more than just hopping in the water and swimming laps. There are different kicks for different strokes, and then there’s pushing off the wall.
Lassen says she began wearing an ankle brace for better support, but she also started off by doing water aerobics and other aquatic exercises to help regain balance while building back strength and muscle memory.
“It was just nice to be back in chlorine two days a week,” she says. “It made me feel better about myself, and about life.”
Lassen says one way to work the body back into shape is to stand in the water and lift up on your toes. Another is to stand in water that’s above the stomach but below the neck. At this point, bend your knees and jump with both feet.
Both of these exercises help swimmers who want to get their lower bodies ready for pushing off the wall when doing laps or getting ready to be back in competition. The push off the wall is important and the bending and jumping exercise helps with that. The last thing that pushes off the wall is a swimmer’s toes, and the toe-raise exercise helps with that part of the push-off.
“Getting in the pool and being weightless is important,” Lassen says. “Even standing on one leg and kicking the other out. I just want to get my balance back and work those small muscles.”
Of course, nothing beats time in the pool and repetitions.
“If you swim all your life, you take certain things for granted,” Lassen says. “I have to sometimes back up and explain to swimmers certain things. I let them know how to push themselves, but to know their limits.”
In addition to light water workouts to get foot and leg injuries back in shape, there are dryland exercises such as stationary bikes, squats, yoga, and other exercises that can be done while lying on your back or stomach. Always consult with your doctor about which exercises are right for you and your specific injury.
- Technique and Training