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Look Before You Leap: Preventing Spinal Cord Injuries This Summer

Swimming & Spinal Cord InjuriesAs we make it through the hottest weeks of summer, there’s nothing more refreshing than a trip to the lake, a beach vacation, or a dip in the pool. But before you take your first jump into the water, Shayne Chaney, aquatic supervisor at Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital, reminds swimmers to do one thing this summer: Look before you leap.

“Diving headfirst into the water, especially at the beach and shallow pools, can have dangerous and life-changing consequences,” he says. “Spinal cord injuries as a result of diving and swimming accidents happen more often than people realize,” he says.

Nearly 1,700 spinal cord injuries result from diving accidents every year. Although these injuries can affect anyone, young men are affected at a much higher rate than any other group.

Spinal cord injuries can have dangerous outcomes, and often lead to paralysis and lifelong consequences for victims and their families. Fortunately, these injuries are preventable. Below, Chaney explains what precautions you can take to prevent spinal cord injuries, no matter where you are.

At the Beach/Lake
You’ve been diving into the same water for years and never had a problem. Why should this time be any different? Even if you’re familiar with where you are, Chaney advises vacationers to be avoid diving into water.

“The coastal features, like sand and rocks, under the surface are an ever-changing environment. During weather events like hurricanes, sand and beaches that you may be familiar with can shift drastically,” he explains. “If you’re going to be diving into open water or waves, familiarize yourself with the area. Check the depth of the water in the area you’ll be diving into, and make sure there are no rocks or obstructions. If you don’t know, don’t dive!”

Chaney also reminds swimmers to be able to recognize rip currents and respond if your find yourself in the middle of one. When you’re caught in a rip current, it can be easy to lose control and be swept underwater. If you find yourself in a rip current at the beach, swim parallel to the shore and out of the rip current, and then back to shore.

Finally, he urges swimmers to remember to watch for a lifeguard. When you’re at a public beach or lake, remember: lifeguards are there for a reason. Swim only in areas that have a lifeguard present and have been designated for safe swimming.

At the Pool
You might think spinal cord injuries are easily avoidable in a backyard or community pool. When you can see the bottom, you’re less likely to hurt yourself, right? Not so fast.

Pools present a serious risk for diving injuries. Before you take a dip or dive this summer, Chaney recommends looking for the following indicators to make sure you’re protecting yourself:

  • Are there depth markings around the pool? Avoid diving in areas that are too shallow, and don’t dive in areas that are less than 10 feet deep.
  • Is the pool well-lit? It may be easy to see the bottom of the pool at night, but if you’re going to be swimming in the dark, you should have lights that illuminate the pool and surrounding area.
  • Is there a designated area for diving? Jump only off of the diving board, and avoid diving or jumping in from the sides of the pool.
  • Is there a lifeguard or someone trained in water safety? If not, don’t dive or swim. In 94 percent of spinal cord injuries that occur in swimming pools, no lifeguard is on duty, and almost half occur during a party. If you’re going to have a party, think about having someone trained in water safety present.
  • Never swim alone. Use the buddy system and look out for your friend’s safety.

“Swimming in the summertime is fun and relaxing so it’s easy to get carried away,” says Chaney. “Being safe and aware of your surroundings, along with other people in and around the water, can make many of these injuries preventable. They have serious life-altering consequences. It’s incredibly important to keep safety the top priority of the summer.”

Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital has helped hundreds of individuals with spinal cord injuries and disorders make incredible strides in their lives. Learn more about our Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Program.

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