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Swim England and partners launch fact sheet for swimmers undergoing surgery

Swim England has increased it’s range of health fact sheets to give guidance on how people can benefit from aquatic activity before or after an operation.

The information comes as a consequence of the pandemic which saw an increase in the number of people requiring specialist care or surgery in England, with figures growing from 4.43 million people in February 2009 to 6.6 million in May 2022.

This is creating enormous pressure on the NHS, meaning more people are waiting longer for the care that they need. This has led to a decline in health and wellbeing before they receive that care and also poorer outcomes after surgical procedures.

In response to this, Swim England’s Swimming and Health Commission developed a new fact sheet on how people can benefit from swimming and aquatic activity before or after an operation, this journey is sometimes called ‘perioperative care’.

The new fact sheet for members of the public can be downloaded from the Just Swim website and on the Health & Wellbeing Hub for anyone who might support swimmers, including swim teachers, coaches and healthcare professionals who may have discussions around swimming or other forms of aquatic activity.

It explains why swimming or aquatic activity might be the best type of exercise, the best types to perform after surgery and what options might be available.

The fact sheet also explains sensible approaches around wound healing, fatigue, timing and access issues, including specific advice on mother and baby swimming.

The new fact sheet follows the review of a range of existing versions covering conditions such as Asthma, Dementia, Diabetes, Epilepsy, Ear Infection, Glandular Fever, Mental Health and Skin Conditions. A fact sheet on Swimming after Covid-19 is also currently in review.

The information provides advice to members of the public and leisure providers to support people with long term health conditions and impairments to start or continue swimming for life. So far there have been over 13,000 downloads and more than 172,000 views by members of the public on the Swim England website.

‘Improvements are seen from the moment people start’

Professor Scarlett McNally, a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon and Deputy Director of the Centre for Perioperative Care, supported the development of the new ‘perioperative care’ fact sheet and explains how important exercise is to those undergoing surgery.

She said: “There is a lot of evidence that people who exercise before and after surgery are far less likely to have complications and they get over operations more quickly. ​It shortens a person’s time in hospital and their risk of needing unexpected additional care.

“This helps the NHS when we are short of staff and beds. We know exercise is great for mental health and physical health. Improvements are seen from the moment people start, even in small ‘doses’.

“For many people, swimming is the best form of exercise. People who have leg problems, back problems or obesity often move freely in water without impact. Because you don’t feel the sweat, you don’t realise what a great exercise swimming is.

“The Centre for Perioperative Care has a lot of evidence and resources to help and everyone on a waiting list should consider it as a ‘preparation list’ and think of how to exercise, such as starting swimming. The fact sheet has really good practical tips and can empower people and swimming staff.”

‘A brilliant resource’

Also involved in development of the fact sheet was Ben Wilkins, CEO of Good Boost who Swim England have partnered with to bring the ground-breaking aquatic rehabilitation technology to the sector.

On the fact sheet, Ben said: “Good Boost has been delivered in swimming pools throughout the nation to support people with a wide range of musculoskeletal conditions.

“The NHS certified artificial intelligence technology creates personalised aqua rehab programmes for people living with conditions such as late stage osteoarthritis (the precursor to the majority of hip and knee joint replacements).

“Over the past four years participants have reported delayed and even cancelled their joint replacement surgery because of reductions in pain and improvements in mobility following their aqua rehab sessions with Good Boost.

“We are pro-actively working in pools throughout the nation where connections with Physiotherapy and Orthopaedic Departments are resulting in more people before and after joint replacement surgery taking advantage of the therapeutic benefits of aquatic rehabilitation. This helps them to stay active and this fact sheet will be a brilliant resource in helping to underline this potential and raise awareness further.”

The work continues

Aquatic Physiotherapist Jacqueline Pattman, Chair of the Aquatic Therapy Association of Chartered Physiotherapists was also involved in developing the fact sheet and is a strong advocate for the potential benefits of aquatic activity pre and post-surgery.

Jacqueline explains: “Aquatic activity in all its forms, is beneficial both pre and post surgery and long term for people with long term health conditions.

“The benefits are physical, physiological and psychological improving health and wellbeing holistically. The perioperative care fact sheet is particularly useful in giving advice and ideas during this phase and demonstrates the need for close collaboration amongst health and leisure professionals for the benefit of the population.

“However, there are still some challenges to meet and the need to safeguard aquatic environments both in health and leisure services to allow people to experience these benefits.

“With this in mind, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy are campaigning alongside other partners like Swim England to ensure these types of services continue.”

Swim England, will be continuing to develop new fact sheets for different conditions with support from the Swimming and Health Commission over the coming months, with new themes around stroke and musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis currently in discussion.

For more information on this or other aspects of Swim England’s health and wellbeing work contact health@swimming.org.

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