Tips For Swimming With A Spinal Cord Injury

This article contains a video
Curated by
Whitney Bailey
Content via Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation
Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation
Curated by
Whitney Bailey

“Individuals with paralysis are limited as to the different ways they can get an effective cardio and aerobic exercise. Swimming is one of those opportunities that presents us with a chance to get our hearts pumping again,” says Scott Chesney, a T7 paraplegic. He admits that swimming can be scary at first, but he shares the following tips to ensure swimming is a rewarding experience.

What To Wear

Scott says no matter if he is swimming in a pool, lake, or another environment his legs and/or feet seem to always get scraped. He invested in some swimming shoes. Scott shows off his shoes in the video saying, “(The shoes) are made to get wet yet protect your feet from sharp objects.”

Scott has found that putting a pad on his footplate after getting out of wet environments helps protect his feet and ankles.

“I never like to have any part of my body where I do not have normal sensation or feeling.”

Scott states that he prefers to change into a dry set of clothes immediately after swimming as it makes his body more comfortable.

The cold water may affect your body. Scott advises emptying your bowel and bladder before swimming. Be aware of your body temperature while in the water.

If it is your first time swimming post-injury, Scott suggests having another person in the pool and swimming with a flotation device.

Using A Pool Lift

Scott demonstrates how to operate a pool lift to get into the pool. He states that some lifts can be operated manually while others may require assistance. He straps himself in and lowers himself in the pool.

Sitting in the pool, Scott says to make sure to position your legs and feet are away from the lift before getting out of it and swimming away. He gives himself a good push and floats away.

Scott states to get back into the chair it is like a transfer to the center of the chair. He uses his arms to get back into the chair and then positions his legs, making sure his feet are secure on the footplate. He buckles his body in the chair and is then raised out of the pool.

Using A Pool Chair

The video starts by showing Scott being pushed into the pool, down a ramp, as he sits in a pool wheelchair. He states that most lifeguards are not trained to assist people with disabilities on getting into or out of the pool so it is best to always have someone with you.

Once Scott is in the water, he unbuckles his seatbelt, and grabs his legs and puts them in front of him. He does this to make sure they do not get stuck on the chair as he pushes himself out of the chair and floats into the water.

Returning to the chair, Scott says to remember to get our bottom to the center of the seat and then reposition your legs and secure your feet on the footplate.

Getting Into The Pool Independently

Scott demonstrates how he would transfer himself into the pool by himself without using equipment or another person. He starts out by doing a floor to ground transfer. He sits on a towel for extra cushion by the side of the pool. Scott then gently swings his legs into the pool. He then readjusts his legs by putting one over the other and then turning his body where he lowers himself into the pool.

Scott states getting yourself out of the pool requires strength and creativity. He likes to grab onto something sturdy, such as a pool ladder. He then uses his upper body to pull himself out of the pool.

Sitting on the edge of the pool, Scott says he prefers having someone help grab his legs to transfer back into his wheelchair so they do not get scraped.

Learning To Float In Pool

Scott gives some tips for learning to float while you are in the pool:

  • Take a deep breath.
  • Make sure you have someone in the pool to assist you if needed.
  • Gently fall back into a floating position. Allow the person to put one hand under your hand and the other hand under your lower back. As you gain confidence, ask the person to remove their hands one at a time.

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