Article image

by Elaine K Howley

February 5, 2021

Check with your doctor before heading back to the pool after a bone fracture

It happens to most of us at some point in life—a mishap leads to a broken bone. You might need to have a cast put on, and it can be a real drag to keep up with your normal routine when lugging around this unwieldy medical device.

For swimmers, having a broken bone can be an especially big hindrance to sticking with a regular workout routine. Traditional plaster casts must be kept dry, and it’s very challenging to do that in a swimming pool. What’s more, if your whole arm is in a cast, that makes it doubly difficult to swim laps.

But depending on the type of injury, you may be able to continue swimming or get back to it sooner than you think. It depends on which bone is broken and how bad a break you’ve got.

For example, if you break a toe, you’re probably going to be able to keep swimming safely, provided you make some small changes. First, check with your doctor, but usually there’s not a lot that can be done about a broken toe. Tape it to the toe next to it to provide support and skip the flip turns or other pushing or weight-bearing activities so you don’t put too much pressure on the injured foot. Go easy, but you should be able to get back into the swim of things quickly.

Similarly, you can often work around small fractures of a finger. Taping may be a good way to keep the finger in the right position for healing and prevent further injury. If your doctor gives you the green light, try swimming lightly or kicking with a snorkel or a board so as not to put too much stress on the injured digit.

If you’ve got a simple break in a larger bone, such as an arm or leg bone, you may not be able to swim straight away. Talk to your doctor about options for waterproof casts and what’s advisable in terms of getting back to your swimming routine.

Newer casts, such as Cast21’s mesh and resin device, don’t have to stay dry and they allow air to the skin to keep you from getting sweaty, icky, itchy, and gross under there. The honeycomb design is also much lighter than conventional cast materials. This is a big improvement over traditional plaster or fiberglass casts for folks who want to stay active and swim.

Other types of waterproof and 3-D printed casts and waterproof cast liners can make it easier and quicker for you to get back to your normal, active routine, even with a broken bone. And that activity could be key to helping you heal.

Once upon a time people with broken bones were advised to rest for a long time to help the healing process without dislodging the set bone. Nowadays, however, physical therapy often starts sooner in the recovery period to prevent atrophy of the muscles that ultimately help keep the bones where they belong. Getting back to regular physical activity is one of the best ways to strengthen bones for the long haul and prevent future fractures, especially for people with osteoporosis—a condition that thins the bones and makes them more prone to breaking.

If you’ve had a serious break, such as an open or compound bone fracture where the bone has pierced the skin, you’ll need to stay out of the water at least long enough for the open wound to heal. It’s easy for bacteria to get introduced to an open wound, and an infection of the bone can be deadly.

Compound fractures are serious injuries and you must follow your doctor’s orders regarding a return to activity after such trauma. If you don’t, you could make the problem worse and may end up needing surgery or an amputation down the line to correct the issue.

Once you get to a place in your healing journey where you doctor says it’s safe to return to the water, you may find that swimming is the best way to rehab a limb that’s been locked up in a cast for weeks on end. The water provides gentle resistance to help build strength in a no-impact way, which means you can rebuild cardiovascular fitness and strength quickly without jarring any still-tender body parts.


  • Health and Nutrition


  • Health