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Can I swim breaststroke after a hip replacement?

Q) What's your advice regarding swimming breaststroke following a hip replacement? I've heard various opinions. Personally I do a modified version, i.e. not the whole movement of the hip/leg. Originally I was informed by my excellent orthopaedic surgeon, 'Yes, it’s ok to do this,' but they added, 'the physios don’t like it'. I attend aquacise classes regularly and asked the instructor’s advice, but she doesn’t know either. We're both keen to hear your verdict.
Gillian, Ipswich (Autumn 2009)

A) I think any exercise for people with arthritis is good, and that includes people who've had joint replacements. Swimming is a particularly good exercise as it doesn't stress your leg joints in the same way as walking or running. However, certain ways of swimming are discouraged. Swimming breaststroke is thought to be bad for the knees, including replacement knees. There's mixed opinion on this topic following hip replacement and some healthcare professionals will advise against it. Indeed, the Arthritis Research UK information on hip replacement discourages breaststroke after the operation. I think it's likely that timing may be the problem. I'd advise avoiding breaststroke until the hip is healed and recovered fully – probably about six months after the operation. I'd also give the following advice. You need to exercise to keep fit, keep your weight down and reduce your chance of heart disease. Any form of aerobic exercise (exercise that makes you out of breath) is good, including swimming. Try and swim so that you don’t feel any pain in the hip and swim a relaxed, normal breaststroke without exaggerated movement of the leg joints. Do also keep up with the ‘dry land’ exercises you were taught after the operation.

This answer was provided by Dr Philip Helliwell for the Autumn 2009 edition of our magazine, Arthritis Today, and was correct at the time of publication.

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