The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Swim with the Fishes, Just Don’t Kick Them: Surprising Aquatic Foot Injuries

Posted by on Wednesday, March 20th, 2013


Almost every athlete with a foot injury has been told that swimming is a great activity for recovery. It’s low-impact but offers plenty of resistance to build up weakened muscles, and improve blood-flow and healing in tendons and ligaments. The buoyancy of water takes a lot of the pressure off of sore feet and ankles, so even when you’re standing in the water, your putting less weight on your injuries. And who doesn’t love to swim? It’s soothing, meditative, and a great escape from the day-to-day hubbub. I’ve been wooed by the swimming recovery plan more than once, and have found great success. In many cases, it can be an incredibly helpful activity for healing. But sometimes it can cause injuries of its own.

Beware the Turn-Around

The most dangerous part of swimming is the end-of-pool spin—that cool move competitive swimmers do to quickly change direction at the end of a lap. The move requires you to push off with explosive strength, and this can injure ankles and feet. Scrapes and bruises are common, and when you’ve got a scrape and wet skin, you’ve got to watch out for infection. Doing this move a whole lot can even cause repetitive strain injuries like plantar fasciitis (though you’ll probably only see these among the every-day swimming set). If you aren’t timing yourself or racing, avoid the spins and just turn around at your own leisurely pace.

When Foot Cramps Strike

Foot cramps are incredibly common in swimmers. They tend to affect beginners and professionals alike and taking things slow can’t always prevent them. You can lower your chances of a mid-stroke cramp by getting adequate fluids; stretching your feet, ankles, and calves before and after your swim; and making sure you have plenty of potassium and magnesium in your diet (a banana is a great source of potassium).

Toenail Fungus

If your feet are damp, exposed to dirty poolside surfaces, and scraped up from spin moves, you’re a likely candidate for some fungal infections. Protect yourself by washing and drying feet thoroughly after swimming, and wearing sandals poolside and in the locker room.

Tendonitis in Your Ankle

Tendonitis is another repetitive strain injury (like plantar fasciitis) and this one can result from thousands of rapid underwater kicks. You know, the kind you use to swim with? It’s the foot flexion that really hurts—all that pointing and flexing. The best treatment here is rest, though you may still be able to perform some strokes, like the breast stroke, that don’t require so much flexibility and movement in the ankle.

Take it Easy to Avoid Problems

Swimming occasionally is generally safe, especially if you take it slow. Don’t start out with fifty laps, spinning off the walls like a pro. As in any sport on the planet, going too hard too fast is a recipe for injury. If you think you’ve got one, contact the Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.