Article image

by Linda Foley

December 16, 2019

Here’s what you need to know about swimming with a sprain

As soon as you feel the stabbing pain in your ankle, you know you shouldn’t have been texting while crossing the street. Predictably, you stepped off the curb abruptly and now you have a sprained ankle. “This is going to tank my swimming!” you lament as you curse out loud. If the sprain is a bad one, you might be right, at least for a time.

Ankle sprains, depending on their severity, either stretch or tear ligaments in your lower leg. Ligaments are the connective bands that join your bones to other bones. So proper healing of an ankle sprain is critical to your ongoing musculoskeletal health. Check with your doctor for an assessment of how severe your sprain is and to rule out a more serious injury, such as an avulsion fracture, in which a piece of bone is torn off. A sprained ankle left untreated can lead to re-injury.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends following the RICE protocol to help heal a sprained ankle: rest, ice, compression, elevation. Even a mild ankle sprain needs at least one week to heal before limited activity can resume. If the ankle remains swollen, it’s likely not ready for any activity yet.

“It really will depend on the severity of the sprain,” says physical therapist Margaret Conze, the owner of Rebound Physical Therapy in Rockville, Md., and a U.S. Masters Swimming member. “With a minor sprain, swimming is totally fine.”

However, she urges swimmers with a severe sprain to be more hesitant about returning to the pool so quickly.

“The kicking motion puts the ankle in the plantar-flexed (pointed) and inverted position (toe slightly in), which places more direct pressure on the already sprained ligament. It will continue to stress it further, thus delaying healing,” Conze says. “If you can’t even push off the wall without hurting, it’s best to take some time off.”

Conze, like other sports medicine professionals, recommends swimming with a pull buoy for a while to eliminate the need to kick. Breaststroke should be off limits until your ankle is completely healed. Likewise, “it’s best to avoid any use of fins until there is minimal or no tension felt on the sprained ligament,” Conze says.

Pain should be a signal that it’s time to stop doing what you’re doing. “Don’t train into a bad pain,” Conze warns. In other words, if your ankle hurts, quit swimming before you make both the pain and the injury worse.


  • Technique and Training


  • Injury