Chapter 12: Sports and Swimming
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Regardless of whether you were actively enjoying sports before your operation or not, you need not let your stoma deter you from taking up a new sport or picking up where you left off with your favourite.
At first the mere thought of returning to sport will seem an impossible goal. But as with most of the Colostomists hurdles these disappear with time as it is more commonly an emotional problem rather than a physical one. If you were a keen footballer or hockey player before your operation there is nothing stopping you from returning to the field once you are fully healed and feel fit enough.
Before your operation you most probably felt quite debilitated and suffered from a severe lack of energy and enthusiasm. After the operation most Colostomists feel as fit as the day they were born and gain a new desire to experience more from life.
One of the most common concerns for the sporting Colostomist is the strength of the Stoma. How much exertion can it take before it gets damaged? The truth is that surgical wounds are fully healed within ten days of the operation itself, a further two months after that and all scar tissue will be at its peak.
Most people have different recovery times, so it is up to you to decide when you are fit enough to take up sport. Ask your Stoma Nurse to examine your wounds to check they are fully healed before attempting anything too exerting.
Remember that you have had a major operation and initially you'll not be at your fittest. Slowly build up your strength and stamina before you plan on your next marathon.
As to restrictions on sport, there are not really that many. In fact there are none, but if you are wise you will steer clear of some.
While there is no medical reason to stop you taking up Karate, Kickboxing or rough contact sports like Rugby it is best to avoid them. I deem this as tempting fate and would hate to have to endure another operation to repair the stoma because I fancied myself as the next Bruce Lee or got tackled too roughly.
Weight lifting too is another area to be wary of. Again don't let it stop you, try and be careful and find your limits as a prolapsed stoma or hernia would mean further surgery.
If participating in sports there are a few guidelines to stick to which will help your confidence out on the field or on the court.
Try to wear a pouch belt or girdle during the game. This will keep the bag in place at all times, even if the adhesive does start to come away from the skin. This way you know you'll not be embarrassed by the bag dropping off onto the floor. An Ileostomist friend of mine told me once that he was playing football for the first time after the operation and presumed that his appliance would be secure enough. Well, he sweated and the adhesive became loose and just as he scored a goal the bag dropped off onto the floor. He said he didn't know which one to pick up first, the ball or the bag!
Wear a cotton pouch cover (these and the belts and girdles are all available on prescription) to help prevent any chaffing of the skin. If your flange or pouch fits too tightly around the stoma and you do a lot of running there is a chance that the stoma will swell a little and look rather angry for a while. This usually vanishes after a while. If it doesn't ask the Stoma Nurse to check it for you.
But what about Swimming? Once again there is nothing to stop you from going for a swim other than your own self-confidence. It is understandable that this is one of the scariest sports for the new Colostomist. After all it involves getting changed in communal changing areas, some of which do not even have cubicals for privacy. Your bag will be on display to the rest of the world! Arghh.... "Will the bag stay on, or will it peel away and float past me on my next length? Will people be able to see through the trucks and be staring at the appliance?" Those were some of my concerns about returning to the pool.
If you find yourself in a swimming pool after a Colostomy you've broken probably the second biggest psychological hurdle facing any Colostomist. The only one that is a bigger worry to the younger Colostomist is the sexual/physical intimacy thing.
Lets take the fears one by one. Firstly, the possibility of the bag or flange dropping off in the water. Most modern adhesives are designed to stay on in water, in fact the water strengthens the adhesives to make sure the bag is super secure during a swim. You could dive in the water off the highest diving board and your bag will stay in place - your shorts might come down but the bag won't!
If you do not believe me try getting into your bath at home with the appliance one. Watch it carefully for a few minutes and you'll see that it is secure in the water as it is out, if not more so. Once out of the bath try to peel the bag away... you'll find it very difficult indeed to part the bag from your skin.
If you are worried about people seeing your appliance through your wet swimming costume experiment at home in the bath. Climb in with your regular costume on. It is best to wear swimming shorts if you can as these are better at hiding the appliances. Once in the bath you'll find that you'll hardly be able to notice any difference, and if you can it's most probably because you are looking, the people at the pool will not be looking in fact I was told that they'll probably not even notice the colour of your costume!
If you are in a communal changing area and you are shy about your appliance try wearing a long tee-shirt for as long as possible. If you are still worried towels work wonders. Wrap one around your waist and away you go getting changed.
You could always get changed at home and arrive in a track suit, then all you need to do is remove the track suit have a swim, get a general dry with the costume on, put the track suit back on and return home. Some people do this anyway regardless of whether they have a stoma or not. It may be cheating but don't let any worries about getting changed stop you.
There are a number of specialist swimwear manufacturer now that supply flattering swimwear for male and female Colostomists. If you find your appliance is still too much on view with your average everyday costume, give these people a try.
Special pouches are available for the Colostomist to wear whilst swimming. These are small with little or no capacity so it is best if wearing one of these to time your swim after your main bowel movement of the day.
If using an everyday pouch, you can always roll the end up a little bit and tape this to your skin, that way the bag becomes less obtrusive.
Either way, a closed bag is recommended, and if this has a filter remember to cover it with one of the special filter covers supplied in the box.
Any fears you have about taking up a certain sport or which appliance to wear for swimming can be discussed with your Stoma Nurse.
To recap, as long as your Doctor and Surgeon gives the go ahead you can enjoy any sport you wish to try. But do remember to check with them first that there are no reasons specific to your case that you cannot take your particular choice up.