View Full Version : swimming ribs

Phil Arcuni
November 23rd, 2002, 07:31 PM
A few days ago I fell down my basement stairs (bedumbedumbedumbump - Hey Dad! that was funny!) and it looks like I cracked a rib. This is not fun, at all.

I asked the doctor if I could 'swim when I felt up to it' and he looked at me like I was crazy - apparantly he feels I could poke a re-cracked rib into my lungs, or something. It is the case that the only time I think I can swim is after I take my Vicodin (and then, fortunately, I fall asleep) but this does seem like an unlikely event to make me stay out of the water for a month or more.

Anyway, is there any experience or doctorly advice for me? I really don't see how I can swim right now - even if I float and kick, the wall seems like Mt. Capitan, but what about later?

Life is so dull, now, and kind of fuzzy . . .

jim thornton
November 23rd, 2002, 08:58 PM

I feel your pain. I have cracked ribs on four separate occasions in the past 7 years. Once in the Boundary Waters in a mishap involving Canadian Club; once jetskiing to Siberia for National Geographic Adventure; once crashing on a snowbike for the same magazine, and once--the most painful if least dramatic--beaching myself on the concrete side of a pool. Moving around on a bed, for some reason, is one of the most painful maneuvers--probably because the intercostal muscles start yanking on the bones, etc. Swimming is not too far behind in the pain inducement department. Oh--I forgot coughing and sneezing. Avoid these at all costs!

Anyhow, the good news is that most of these rib injuries will go away in about 6-8 weeks. The last time I cracked one, I continued to swim through the pain, using lots of ibuprofen, etc. But after two weeks, I felt like it was getting worse so I took a couple weeks off.

My doctor told me that there's nothing you can really do to hasten--or retard, for that matter--the healing process. He actually checked me out to make sure no lung puncturing was imminent, and thusly assured, told me it was okay to swim if I could tolerate the pain. I couldn't, so ultimately I diidn't. I think this would be your best advice: don't swim if it really hurts.

One last note: it does seem like it takes forever for the pain of a rib crack to go away. I can't even remember it actually going away, but obviously it did, despite the absense of any clear demarcation "pain, no pain" point. Be patient! One day next spring you will wake up and have trouble remembering you even have ribs. And know until then you have the total sympathy of someone who's been there.

November 23rd, 2002, 10:50 PM

My broken rib a few years ago kept me totally dry for 4 weeks followed by 2 weeks of just over 1000 yards a few days a week (mostly kicking). I broke it on a Sunday and didn't see the doctor until after I tried to swim on Monday. It just wasn't possible to swim a single lap. You use your core body too much in swimming to do anything at all with a broken rib. Take it slow when you start back up and it will come around. I was able to swim the Chesapeake bay just over 3 months after the break, but I wouldn't call it a "race" that year.

I'll second Jim's thoughts on the worst activities - sneezing and coughing are incredibly painful. Laughing isn't too much fun either. The other thing that hurt a lot was forgetting and trying to push or pull a door open with that side.

Take it easy for a while and try not to put on too much weight while you're not swimming. Some 12 ounce curls may help keep your arm in shape.

Tom Ellison
November 23rd, 2002, 11:15 PM
I busted two in the Corps...and it hurt like heck for 3 to 4 weeks. Some good advice...DO NOT go back after it until you feel better. I did and it took my ribs much longer to heal. I hope you get feeling better soon. Kicking without a board sounds ok, but let your ribs tell you how they are healing. I found that pain (in that scenario) was my friend. I felt pain…..but I was being a moron in need of backing off...unfortunately…. I WAS a moron and didn't listen to my ribs...Then again; they don't call us Jar Heads for nothing.
Kindest regards,
Tom Ellison

Bert Petersen
November 24th, 2002, 02:56 AM
Oh Phil......take it slow coming back after a looonnngg rest. Ribs are notoriously slow in healing.
Heal fast, my friend. If it was me, I would be using D.M.S.O. to enhance circulation and hence speed healing.
A lot of people are afraid of D.M.S.O., especially Chirpractors, for some strange reason. I have used it fairly regularly since 1960 for bruises, burns and any sore spot. No visible negative results, unless you want to consider my attempts at 200 fly swims as evidence of craziness...........
All the very best and I hope you come back faster than ever.

Bert ~~~^o^~~~

November 24th, 2002, 01:51 PM
Several years ago, my husband (a runner) broke some ribs in a car accident. My coach at the time was also an athletic trainer. After a few weeks, my coach got him in the water to do running excercises. He used two of those styrofoam "barbells" found at the pool for flotation (one under each arm.) He used running shoes for more resistance. At first, he stayed in the deep water and did 30 sec hard, 30 sec easy. As the ribs healed, he started "running" 50s in the pool, on an interval. By that time he could tolerate some impact. The pool work lasted about 6 weeks. When he was able to run again, he was back to 3 miles on the third day.
I think this time of routine may help you maintain some cardiovascular fitness and give you your chlorine fix. The only pain was when he got his heart rate up.
Good luck.
Betsy Durrant

November 24th, 2002, 07:15 PM
hey, Phil

It apppears you're looking for something to do in the water that is tolerable while recovering from broken ribs. If you can manage to negotiate the ladder getting into and out of the pool this might be worth a try.

I better start with a little background. A few years ago Fitness Swimmer magazine had an article about Tom Boettcher that inspired me to look on swimming from several aspects that were new to me. Tom is the guy who swims the open water 5K Big Shoulders Meet in Lake Michigan, going the whole way using the butterfly stroke exclusively. (He has a website called simply, Infolocus, in case you're interested). But to my point, one of the things I developed for my self was to be absolutely "at home" in the water. Thus it was that for long stretches I did nothing but vertical dolphination with no hand or arm motion whatever. From that leg and aerobic exercise I progressed (?) to floating vertically by hyperextending my neck backwards.

And from this floating position, eventually, I found the "middle-ground" between vertical floating and vertical dolphination. Thus, I took up the drill of nodding slowly and rhythmically, exhaling with chin to chest, "blowing bubbles", and inhaling when the mouth is completely clear. This, all with no motion other than the neck's nodding of the head.

It is helpful to have access to a corner of the diving well for this, especially if the water is warmer. In any case, you'll be glad if you wear a silicone swim cap. And remember, diaphraghmatic breathing could be easier on the ribs than intercostal.

p.s. Sorry that you'll have to miss the big meet at UNLV next month!;)

Phil Arcuni
November 24th, 2002, 08:19 PM
Wow! Thanks everyone for the good advice and the support.

I'll try to get in the water sometime this week - getting in should be easy, getting out not so . . .

I agree with everyone's description of the symptoms; I thought I was doing a lot better until I had a (stifled) sneeze. That first night it took five minutes to lay on my left side (the right was damaged) and then I was stuck - I could not roll over to my back. That was when I decided to go to the hospital.

I spent the weekend watching my son's soccer team play in the district cup. I couldn't cheer as it was too painful; that is very difficult when your son is the keeper!

Thanks again, I may not see you at UNLV, but you will see me at some other big meets - I move up an age group!

November 25th, 2002, 03:37 PM
Wow, Phil, sorry to hear about your accident. I guess you won't be joining me in the Backstroke lane for the 50X100s next Friday then. I hope you recover quickly and can mitigate the pain.