Spinal Cord Injuries

Ditch the Dive - Protect Your Head and Neck

Powerful waves, diving into the water, or poor body surfing technique can cause serious spinal cord injury and broken bones. Follow these tips to stay safe in the surf.

  1. Know your environment. Before entering, know how deep the water is and consider if there are shallow spots where you could hit the ocean bottom when playing in the waves.
  2. Body surf with your hands in front. Never ride a wave with your arms down by your side.
  3. Wipeout safely. Jump away from your board and land on your backside if possible.

Always protect your head and neck by keeping your hands in front of you when entering the water or playing in the waves.

Additional Information on Spinal Cord Injuries at the Beach

Neck and spinal cord injuries are permanent and sometimes fatal. Most neck and spinal cord injuries at the beach are caused by an ocean wave forcing your neck and spine into harmful, unnatural positions. These injuries can occur in a variety of ways: when your body tumbles in the waves, gets thrown by the waves to the ocean floor or when your head spears into the sand.

The spinal or vertebral column is made up of bones (vertebrae), soft spongy discs, which act as shock absorbers for the spinal column, nerve tissue called the spinal cord which runs through the center of the vertebrae, and supporting soft tissue including muscles and ligaments. The vertebrae protects the spinal cord, which is soft like the consistency of pasta. The extent of damage from an injury varies depending on how much and what type of force is exerted on the spine, and how it impacts the spinal cord.

If the trauma is minor or moderate, it may cause strained muscles or ligaments, or fractures that will eventually heal with treatment. A misalignment of the spinal column could result in pinching of the spinal cord resulting in temporary paralysis. The victim may regain mobility as the pinching subsides, but it could mean a long and painful road to recovery.

When the trauma is severe, the vertebrae and discs between the vertebral bones can be dislocated or even shattered. This can put significant pressure on the cord, or even slice it in two. Similarly, ligaments that support the spine can tear allowing the spine’s alignment to shift, again putting pressure on or cutting through the spinal cord.

Once this type of spinal damage has occurred, there is little that can be done medically to repair it. The result is severe pain, paralysis of the arms and/or legs, inability to breathe without a ventilator, or even death.