So Your Swimmer Broke Their Arm…

waterproof cast

Every coach goes through this difficult process. A swimmer breaks their arm, or wrist, and has to wear a cast for weeks on end. The swimmer inevitably thinks their season is over. But in reality it may be one of the best things that could happen to their swimming career.

Assuming the swimmer gets a waterproof cast, and doctor’s approval to exercise, the swimmer is now faced with a choice.

1.  Spend the next many weeks (4-6 is not uncommon) kicking. Underwater kicking, surface kicking, vertical kicking. Every type of kicking you can image.

With this option, the swimmer not only gets much stronger legs, but also gets much stronger mentally. At first their legs will burn and they’ll have trouble walking up stairs. It will test their resolve. But if they’re tough enough, and if they have a proper program with sufficient recovery, their mind and legs will become stronger than they’ve ever been. When the cast is finally taken off, a gradual introduction of arms can take place, while the swimmer relies on their drastically improved kicking to get them through practice. And after just a few weeks with the cast off, the swimmer will be able to finish practices. WARNING: The coach just has to adjust their practices or the back / legs can get injured. It’s not advisable to just go to the back of the lane and kick every swim set.

We’ve had an experienced national age group qualifier do multiple PBs as little as 9 weeks after getting the cast off, and that was after a full 6 weeks with the cast. It’s not just possible to do this, but I’d say that the more powerful kicking and faster, longer underwater makes it probable. In the end, it could be the best thing that could happen to them.

2.  Unfortunately, the other option is far more common. The swimmer gets unspeakably bored of kicking, tired of having sore legs, and hates not getting to swim with others. And so excuses are given and attendance drops off. Before you know it, the cast is off and you have a swimmer with weak arms, weak legs and a serious lack of endurance that can require many, many months to overcome.

Ultimately, a broken arm / wrist is a test of the individual. It’s a test of how deeply they want to get better, and how much they’ll put up with to make it happen. It’s a life lesson that they’ll take with them for the rest of their lives.

Waterproof Casts and Coverings

The following companies make products that either work with non-waterproof casts, or help protect the injury when using waterproof casts. I haven’t tested any of them, and make no assurances of their effectiveness, and there may be other companies that I missed in my cursory internet search. If anyone knows of other companies with products in this area, please provide them in the comments!

AquaCast Liner – http://aquacastliner.com/

BLOCCS – https://www.bloccs.com/default.aspx

Gore Procel – https://www.gore.com/en_xx/products/consumer/procel/index.html

OrthoTape – http://orthotape.com/waterproof_cast_padding_delta_dry_arm_cast.asp

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8 comments

  1. When our son was 11, he broke his thumb, required a cast for a month, and our health provider did not have any waterproof casting materials available… so we used a DryPro waterproof cast cover to keep him in the water without missing more than a few days waiting for the cover. His team and coaches were great about giving him tailored kick sets, and he showed great improvements from his stronger kick once the cast came off. There may be other solutions out there, but we were extremely happy with it. Sure, his arm got sweaty, but it didn’t ruin the cast.

    We dried it after practice every night by improvising a cast drier (you can also buy them) – wrap the outside of the cast in something relatively airtight, and suck air through it to dry it out – that will work for any type of cast.

  2. David Berriman · · Reply

    When Ethan broke both bone in his forearm last year the doctor unfortunately told us swimming or any other activity was definitely out for his type of break. We did however buy the dry pro waterproof cast protector so he could shower and it was fantastic. If anyone needs it please give me a call or ask coach Rick.

  3. George · · Reply

    Great article! When i broke my arm my kick got so much better! Also a great time to work on drills. It’s also important for age groupers to keep in touch socially with others during this time, as an additional motivator to keep going to the pool!

  4. […] me at our meet this weekend. One of our boys had broken his wrist 2 months ago (see my post on this here), and the cast only came off a couple of weeks ago. He spent the time training surprisingly hard on […]

  5. An intriguing update to this post. A couple of months ago we had another one of our boys break his wrist. Before the accident this boy wasn’t giving each practice his full attention, and while he was improving, he certainly wasn’t living up to his potential. However, after he broke his wrist we had to move him to the slow lane as he couldn’t keep up with the others while just kicking. This galvanized him into training harder than he ever had before, and he actually managed to get back to his lane based only on incredibly improved kick. When the cast came off, he continued this new attitude, training with an intensity we had never seen before. This quickly translated into much better competitive results. I have no doubt that if he hadn’t broken his wrist, he wouldn’t be nearly as good as he is now.

  6. Anonymous · · Reply

    My 10 yo son fractured his middle finger. They had to put pins on it, no incision, however, he’s on a cast. He’s been doing stationary bike every day for 30-40 minutes. He goes to land training 3x a week.
    He tried swimming with DryPro, it leaked. We had to go back to get a new cast the following day.
    Cast will be off 3 weeks. He missed a championship meet, and a soon a long course meet. I’m hoping he will be back in time for the Far Westerns. We have 4 weeks after they remove the cast. Do you think this is doable?

    1. Hi. At that age its certainly possible to be back in good form in 4 weeks. However, at that age its also possible to get over stressed about it. As a parent, its your job to monitor this to make sure its still fun.

      What’s your coach’s attitude about the injury? Does your son really want to make that meet? If you get green lights everywhere, then your son should feel free to go for it.

      Good luck

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