A broken thumb hurts, and while it makes any sport more difficult, it presents specific challenges to competitive swimming. Your hand has to push the water behind you, over and over again, with forceful pressure and rapid speed. While you can still swim competitively with a broken thumb, how and where your thumb is broken will have a major impact on your training.
How Does Your Thumb Break?
The thumb has two bones, the distal phalange and proximal phalange. The bone above the knuckle is the distal phalange, while the bone beneath the knuckle connecting your thumb to your hand and wrist is the proximal phalange. Depending on where you break your thumb and how badly -- say, a hairline fracture above the knuckle versus shattering the bone below the knuckle -- it can anywhere from a few weeks to several months to recover.
Breaking the Distal Phalange
In your thumb, the bone above the knuckle isn't connected to major joints, which means you can swim at a lower intensity. However, you need to swim with a thumb splint to keep the thumb in place. There are two things to keep in mind. First, wearing your splint is absolutely necessary so it can continue to heal while you swim by stabilizing and protecting the broken bones. Second, it's critical that you don't swim at your normal pace, as the splint makes your hand less powerful. You do not want to risk further injury to your hand or wrist.
Breaking the Proximal Phalange
If you break your thumb below the knuckle, you are definitely in a pickle. This bone connects to the joints in your hand and wrist, so the healing time takes much longer. For starters, you need to wear a brace or cast that covers most of your hand and wrist in order to stabilize your thumb by keeping it at the side. With your thumb unable to lie next to your hand, it makes swimming much harder, as it essentially reduces the power in your hand to that of an ineffective paddle. This also reduces overall speed and momentum.
Instead of further straining your thumb and potentially hurting your hand and wrist, focus on kicking. Your training should reflect this by practicing drills that strengthen your legs without putting undue pressure on your thumb. Use a kickboard to practice the flutter kick, dolphin kick and breaststroke kick to help keep your forearm stable. Build up leg muscles further by adding fins to your kick drills, which put greater pressure on the thigh, shins and calves while increasing ankle flexibility. No matter how you broke your thumb, any kind of hands-free swimming will keep you in the water without putting your other bones, joints and tissues in danger.
Nadia Osman is a California-based writer. She has covered travel, real estate, fashion, fitness and other topics for various online publications. Osman holds a B.A. in history from UC Irvine.