What lurks beneath the water?
It sounds like a horror story title, and it certainly can be when a spinal cord injury results from diving into natural bodies of water such as lakes, rivers and oceans, where visibility is low and rock and debris can be hidden from view.
Having fun at the lake and staying safe are not mutually exclusive, but experts say it is never advisable to dive into any body of water where you can’t see under the surface, no matter how many times you’ve been diving there before.
"Always enter the water feet first,” says spine surgeon Steven Agabegi, MD, an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine and UC Health orthopaedic surgeon.
While the majority of diving injuries occur in June through September in residential pools, it’s not uncommon to see head and neck injuries which occurred from diving into natural bodies of water.
At University of Cincinnati Medical Center, a Level I trauma center, Agabegi says: ”We typically see a dozen or so trauma patients during the summer whose neck injuries resulted either from diving into the shallow end of a residential pool or hitting a felled tree or rock at the lake.”
Many of these patients sustain devastating spinal cord injuries and become quadriplegic; depending on the severity of the injury, the neurologic deficits can be permanent.
"Diving is a very high risk activity and should be treated as such” says Agabegi, adding that recreational diving should be solely restricted to large public pools where there is a designated diving area and a lifeguard on duty.
The highest demographic for diving accidents is young males, and alcohol is a common factor.
Should you find yourself in the company of someone who dove in head first and appears to be injured or unconscious, there are steps to take to help minimize damage.
- Call 911 immediately.
- Approach the victim carefully.
- Hold the victim’s head in alignment with his back and gently turn him onto his back so he can breathe. If possible, have someone assist.
- Keep the head and back stabilized and do not move the person’s neck.
- Support the victim with something sturdy—pool equipment, oar, ring buoy, etc.
- Do not remove the victim from the water until trained emergency assistance arrives. Movement can cause further damage to the spinal cord.