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by Scott McDonald

November 27, 2019

Proper wound care may mean taking a week or two off

It’s not uncommon for people to get stitches in their body at some point in their lifetime. Whether for flesh wounds during an accident or a planned incision through surgery, sutures are a temporary fix to a problem.

The question for swimmers is, can I swim with stitches or sutures? If so, then what do I need to know?

Catherine Hannan, a board-certified plastic surgeon who practices in Washington, D.C., and places and removes sutures every day, helps clarify when swimmers should be able to get back in the water.

She says a little preventive maintenance on a wound trying to heal could be greatly beneficial to long-term health.

“I do realize that it’s difficult to place life on hold for what can seem like a minor injury, but I’ve seen lack of good wound care turn a small problem into a larger one,” Hannan says. 

Hannan says a cut or laceration that has been closed with sutures starts to have epithelial cells regrow at 24 to 48 hours. In other words, the skin starts growing back new on the outside of the wound in two to three days to help seal off the wound from bacteria and other potentially harmful things.

Hannan says she tells her patients they may start showering at the 24-hour mark, but to not submerge the wound underwater for a prolonged period of time. This includes bathing and swimming, which could cause the skin to become “wrinkly” or “pruny,” she says. This could delay the wound healing on the outside.

“Additionally, swimming in poorly treated pool water or lakes/streams that have a greater degree of bacteria and other organisms can predispose to infection of the wound,” Hannan says.

Oceans, lakes, and rivers for open water swimmers could possibly contain bacteria, microorganisms, and viruses that could cause more problems if they got inside a wound trying to heal.

There are two types of stitches. Permanent stitches are stronger from the time they are first placed, and the doctor typically removes them. Absorbable stitches are absorbed into the body over time, and Hannan recommends refraining from swimming or bathing altogether before they’re absorbed. The depth of the laceration also factors in on her advice: a deeper wound needs more time to heal.

“Overall, I recommend avoiding submerging the incision for at least a week if possible,” Hannan says. “If absolutely necessary, a waterproof adhesive bandage should be used, and the minimum amount of time in the water as is possible for that person.”

Once out of the pool, or tub, she recommends drying the area as much as possible by patting it with a towel or letting it air dry. 

All wounds and all patients are different, and she recommends asking your doctor about specific instructions for your wound before getting back into the water.


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