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Individuals with congenital (at birth) or adventitious amputations have unique aquatic needs which can be met creatively in a joint partnership between the swimmer and the instructor. Many individuals with amputations wear prostheses (artificial limbs) to improve functional capability on land. Considerable improvement in materials involved in the construction of prosthetic devices ? specifically chemically resistant polymer materials ?/font> and an increase in low cost manufacturing have improved the likelihood that a swimmer may be moving in the water with a prosthesis.

In the past, most swimmers removed the prosthesis prior to entering the aquatic environment to avoid potential damage by water, the chemicals in the water, sand and or sun.

  • The primary consideration for individuals swimming without a limb(s) and with a prosthesis is helping the swimmer develop a stable position (a position of equilibrium) for flotation and movement in the water. When helping a serious swimmer modify stroke mechanics and techniques, the swimming instructor can help the manufacturer of the prosthetic in the development process in the same way a manufacturer may customize a ski or wheelchair to meet a specific need.
  • Usually the prosthesis is relatively buoyant and requires the swimmer to make some adjustment in body position.
    • A swimmer with a single below the knee amputation may require little if any modification in body position in order to swim effectively. A slight tilt of the head in the direction of the missing limb may help the swimmer develop lateral stability in the water in the front or back crawl. A swimming fin on the existing foot may facilitate speed required to maintain body position in the water.A swimmer with a single below the knee amputation may require little if any modification in body position in order to swim effectively.
    • A slight tilt of the head in the direction of the missing limb may help the swimmer develop lateral stability in the water in the front or back crawl. A swimming fin on the existing foot may facilitate speed required to maintain body position in the water.
    • A swimmer with bilateral below the knee amputations may need to carry the head a little higher in the water, chin tucked, in order to move efficiently in the water. The swimmer may require a weight belt to hold his/her hips just below the surface of the water and enhance the kick. The constant application of force in the pulls in the front or back crawl is often more efficient than the vacillating application of force in the breaststroke or elementary backstroke.
    • A swimmer with a single or bilateral amputation below the hip will require a flotation device to keep the head above the water; this may be used in combination with a weighted belt to keep the trunk just below the surface of the water. Strokes that involve constant application of force…sculling or back crawl pulling motions may be most efficient.
    • A swimmer with a single amputation of an arm below the elbow may require little if any modification in body position to move well in the water. The swimmer may find the trudgeon a particularly effective stroke for long distance swimming.

In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a student who had a congenital quadriplegic amputation. She developed a very functional full body dolphin motion and was able to swim 200 yards independently. In order to allow her to find a body position in which her head was not toward the bottom of the pool, fishing weights were sewed into the bottom of her suit. Weight was added gradually to determine a position in which she could, independently, use a dolphin motion to grab a breath. This same student was able to enter the pool independently using a stump jump from the locker room to the pool deck. Note: the deck had to be dry to allow her to accomplish this safely. She was able to do a jump or dive entry into the pool and recover to a resting position in which she held her mouth above water with her chin on the gutter.

Pool entry skills need not be limited. Creative modifications may be required. Jump or dive entries should be spotted.

Exiting the pool may be the most difficult aspect of the experience depending on which limb(s) are missing. A movement exploration approach to independent exit, if possible, is best.

The pool deck between the locker room and the pool needs to be carefully maintained so there is a dry path between the two for the swimmer to use to gain access to the pool.

Young children with amputations should be given the same opportunity to experiment with pool toys such as flotation rings, sponges, floating mats, pails and shovels, squirt toys (no guns, please) etc. as other young children are.


Carol Huettig, Ph.D.
Visiting Professor
Texas Woman’s University

page last updated 1/2/2013 4:34 PM