How can swimming help children recover faster from injuries?
No recovery from “children” muscle or ligament injury, fractures or certain interventions is easy, but it is possible. In such situations the body is limited to certain moves and activities on the dry. This is why water and swimming are often the best solution. Why? Because in the water there are no sudden moves. No injuries. Joints and ligaments are not under pressure the way they are on the dry. Apart from increasing flexibility and resilience of the joints, swimming contributes to a better bone density (linkovati). A good swimming technique, for a specific injury in children, means a halfway to recovery, while a bad one can worsen the situation! For all of these things, and for swimming itself, the water can offer a safe and rather efficient recovery than any other physical activity in that situation.
Swimming, as a part of rehabilitation in children after injuries
When having some apparently innocent but also those serious injuries, specialists often recommend swimming and exercises in the water as a part of a faster recovery in children (and adults). When you’re injured, water acts as your therapy. As every child and injury is unique, the recovery is also a story of itself.
These are just some of the cases of child injuries I have faced in my career and addressed with the water exercises and swimming, as a part of the rehabilitation process:
A knee injury, injured ligaments: I was rushing down on my bike. I lost the control at one point, pressed the break suddenly and then fell down. This teenager had his knee dislocated and ligaments torn. I could feel his paint at the moment when his mother was telling me what had happened, as I had had a similar accident myself playing basketball. Following the intensive care which took him about two months, the physiatrist recommended exercises, so this is how he ended up in the pool. At first, we were just walking in the water. Then we started with a slow knee raising, up and down, back and forth. Step by step, until he finally started swimming.
When it comes to knee injuries, the best thing you should do is to move your leg as in the crawl and backstroke techniques. Because the circular moves, the ones you make in breaststroke, can be painful for these injuries (of course, it all depends on the type of the injury).
Later, we introduced swimming fins, those short ones which are much better for strengthening the muscle groups of the legs. In this way we alleviated the pressure from the knee, but we worked on the muscles around it. These are some of the exercises with the swimming fins we did in the water:
- In the waist deep water, we walked back and forth, raising the knee up while having the swimming fins on all the time. Then, we did the same by walking to both sides.
- Then, while holding onto the pool’s edge, lying on our back, we were making slow moves with our legs, and bending them with the swimming fins on.
- In the end, we were swimming backstroke with the fins on, making slow moves in the water, using a kickboard. We did the same exercise while facing the water, placing the kickboard under the chest, with the fins on all the time.
- We also made squats with the fins on, holding onto the pool’s edge, and then slowly turning to the side.
He did all these carefully, day by day, together with a coach and at the recommendation of the physician, the physiotherapist.
Palm and forearm injuries: Apart from being a good swimmer, she’s an excellent gymnast. She is eleven and she likes jumping and making acrobatics. She comes to the pool one day with her hand casted and tears in her eyes. I just said – Again? She had had a bad landing on her arm and broken “a couple of tiny bones”. At the recommendation of the specialist, after eight weeks of rest and physical therapy, she got into the pool. She started swimming.
At first, we did only leg exercises, with just slight arm moves. She didn’t move her hand very much. Apart from that, what we worked on most were the circular moves of the palm and forearm in the water, and then we started using various props such as a rubber band, small ball, big ball, noodle,… so that she could strengthen her arm muscles without feeling any pain. These are some of the exercises she did in the water before she started swimming:
- Have a rubber ball in the pool she squeezed and relaxed in her injured palm while swimming backstroke. In order to reduce the pressure on her palm, and to increase the pressure on her forearm, she swam crawl with her palm up holding the ball.
- Then, using the rubber band tied to one side of the pool, she made the moves pulling herself back and forth in the pool, and also moving to the right and left. She would also step onto the rubber band with her foot in the water, holding onto the pool’s edge with one hand, which she used the other hand to pull the rubber band up and down through the water, making slow moves. This exercise can also be done without the rubber band using only the water pressure in the first recovery phase. It is important not to pressure the hand.
- When we replaced the kickboard with the bigger ball, we did the leg exercises, with our arms stretched and relaxed, and with a constant sinking of the ball.
- Standing in the shallow part of the pool, in a semi-squat, we would pull the noodle through the water, changing the narrow and wider grip, sinking the noodle down and to the side, using both hands at the same time, and then slowly using just one hand.
After four weeks in the pool, she recuperated her injured hand. We were still doing the exercises such as crawl – one arm waiting for the other, and she was swimming crawl and backstroke most. When she started feeling better, and following regular medical check-ups, she continued swimming. She still does her acrobatics today, and she also swims regularly.
A broken leg: A passionate footballer, skier and swimmer. After his winter break, a thirteen- year-old boy sends me a photo – whole his right leg casted! He ran into a rock and his ski didn’t fall off so he twisted his leg. I don’t want to go into details about his fall. After a two-month break, his physiatrist recommended the pool. At first, we mostly did the exercises with the noodle:
- He was walking forward through the water having nothing in front of him, then he was walking backward, in order to get his movement back, and then we started using the noodle. How? By stepping onto the noodle and making small steps forward through the water, back and forth, and then, making slow moves with the noodle, he would raise his leg to the side, a bit to the left and a bit to the right.
- Then we started using the ladders. He started climbing up to the first step and to the 10 th step in the water using a stepper, still having his noodle there, under his knee. This is how we made active breaks still keeping the noodle around the knee all the time.
- In the end, he was “cycling” around the pool sitting on two or three noodles and making slow moves with his leg, turning the “water paddles”. In this way we didn’t work only on the muscle strength but also on the balance and the moves.
When his leg started recovering, getting its muscles back, we swam. At first, he swam only backstroke with the noodle between his legs, and then with two noodles under his back. With the time, with started swimming crawls. He got his strength back and there he is, playing centre- forward for his school club. To be honest, he seems not to be that passionate about skiing anymore, but he does swim more.
A shoulder injury: She’s got tennis in her blood. It’s been a tradition in her family. So, it was logical that she would start playing tennis once she started walking. She was also in my swim school. After a summer break she started complaining about the pain in her left shoulder. A usual inflammation caused by a disproportionally increased scope of trainings and regime. Following the consultations with her physician, she was advised to make a break with tennis and start
swimming more regularly.
- At first, we did the underwater exercises so that she could do a painless arm stroke again. We made circular moves, in the shape of number eight with her arm extended in the water.
- Then, she moved her arm making the shape of a “snow angel”, but while facing the water, so that she could have a better scope moving her shoulder part. We did the same exercise which on the back.
- The noodle here was helpful for the exercises when she was pushing it down and to the side.
As the pain was disappearing, we intensified swimming, backstroke due to the similarity and the nature of the arm moves she makes in her favourite sport. She got back to tennis, but she still swims once a week. Why? To relax her muscles, clear her mind, boost her heart... energise her muscles, joints and bones the way she can do only in the water! And to empower her entire body, in order to prevent any further injuries.
The recovery from an injury, break, certain intervention depends on the child and his or her motivation to make a new jump and turn. The support of the parents and a professional is necessary. Also, the rehabilitation process takes time, patience and persistence, but swimming and exercises in the water will definitely make you good.
Of course, it is always better to prevent than heal, right?
So, teach your children how to swim and use the benefits the water and this sport bring along.