As with any sport - well I don´t consider the activity of surfing a sport but rather a way of life, but let´s put it that way - surfing can have its dangers and it is up to you to prevent many of the injuries that can happen when you face the sea.
Confronted with this question I sought the opinion of the specialists. A great website called sport injuries bulletin (as a matter of fact you can search for injuries in many other sports, go check it out) makes a very interesting overview about the main injuries you can face when surfing.
Lacerations to the head, lower leg and foot appear to be the most common injuries, usually caused by contact with the surfer’s own or another surfer’s board or fins (the rudder on the underside of the board); with the ocean floor, or with beach litter.
Soft-tissue injuries comprise the second-largest category, ranging from contusions to acute strains or sprains to the lumbar and cervical spine, shoulder, knee and ankle.
Fractures occur frequently. The head is the most common site, mostly involving the nose and teeth, and many ribs get broken.
Eyes and ears are vulnerable. Eye injuries can result from direct trauma but also chronically from excessive UV light reflecting from the water surface, the drying effect of the wind and exposure to salt water. The surfer’s ears can suffer in two specific ways: firstly, a ‘wipeout’ (coming off the board while riding a wave) can perforate an eardrum; and secondly, a chronic condition may develop involving bony growths within the external ear canal as a result of ‘cold water, spray and wind rushing in and out of the canal, stimulating the tissues to produce excessive bone growth’(1). This causes a loss in diameter of the ear canal and a consequential decrease in hearing. It is known as surfer’s ear.
Craniospinal injuries are rare but of particular concern because of the long-term consequences. (One study(2) found craniospinal injuries to be the most common form, but this finding is less odd when you know that the study was done on Hawaii’s North Shore, ‘where spectacular hard-breaking surf breaks within a few yards from shore in shallow water’.)
Acute musculoskeletal injuries will usually result from a wipeout. Contact with the ground surface – whether it be reef, rock or sand – can cause injury, the type and extent depending on the surfer’s position and contact area. Common injuries include
* over-flexion of the cervical or lumbar spine
* forced shoulder depression and contralateral lateral flexion of the cervical spine resulting in traction to the brachial plexus
* landing on the point of the shoulder causing trauma to the acromio-clavicular joint or in adolescents fracture to the clavicle or the shoulder being forced into anterior subluxation.
Acute knee and ankle, ligament and joint surface injuries can result from a big drop at take-off. When standing up on fast, steep waves, the surfer’s feet can leave the board and then find it again at the bottom of the wave. If the surfer becomes unbalanced for whatever reason, he/she can land off-centre, putting excessive rotational or medial/lateral force through knees or ankles.
Overuse injuries of the shoulder, neck, back and elbow are common and relate to prolonged time spent paddling, tummy down, on a board. For more information on injury statistics, see ‘Surfing Injuries in Otago and Southland, New Zealand’, a research project by Rede Frisby.
(To be continued)