There is nothing quite as fun as swimming outside, when summer finally arrives. But, did you know in the United States, sports and recreational activities account for nine percent of the annual spinal cord injuries (SCI)? The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC) update in 2016 reported that there are approximately 17,000 new cases of SCI annually, and over 1,500 of those cases are the result of recreation or outdoor sport activities.

Since we know that SCIs can result in permanent loss of mobility, and in some cases, present health complications that significantly reduce quality of life and longevity, it’s important to review swimming and diving as a source of SCIs, and provide tips to reduce the risk of accidental injury.

Cliff Diving

Who doesn’t love the idea of running and jumping off a steep cliff, into refreshing cool summer water below? Depending on where you live, cliff diving can be a family sport, and many national parks (although they post signs warning about the dangers, and do not endorse the activity) have excellent locations where kids, teens, and families can enjoy the exhilaration.

Diving into water is always risky, no matter if you are diving into a lake, river, or a pool. One of the risk factors associated with outdoor natural diving is that there is an assumption that you know what is at the bottom. For instance, if you have dived the same spot for years, you may have a sense of safety and confidence that is misplaced. Despite the fact that you are familiar with the spot, the underwater structures (including sand, rock, and debris like tree logs) is always changing. What was a safe spot to dive into last summer may no longer be safe to dive into now.

While it is definitely a better idea than diving into any water head first, the human body can absorb just as much shock from a linear, vertical dive at a tall height as it can from a head-first dive. The makers of the Red Bull™ energy drink have a cliff diving team and a resource page that explains why the average human being is unable to withstand hitting the water at more than 60 miles per hour, which is the average speed when diving from a height of eighty feet or more. Professional divers train for years, which is something that teens and adults need to be informed about; it’s more than avoiding obstacles at the bottom when the G-Force of hitting the water can create serious and life-threatening impact injuries to the spine.

Water Slides

It is estimated that there are more than 1,200 water parks in North America and Mexico. Heading to the family water park is a rite of summer, and few people fathom that they can actually be seriously injured while enjoying a safe and supervised swimming environment. Unfortunately, while rides are certified and staff are trained to help prevent injuries, it is the behavior of other riders that can increase your risk of a permanent neck or spinal injury.

The most common sources of injury are impact slides, where a rider comes into contact with a structure (part of the slide) or another rider in a collision. Horseplay and other behaviors, such as not clearing the landing area at the bottom of the slide, can significantly increase the likelihood of serious injury. Remember, the average water slide moves at 15 to 30 miles per hour, with some “super slides” reaching as fast as 60 miles per hour, including the “Summit Plummet” water slide at Walt Disney World™ in Orlando, Florida. That slide is 120 feet tall, and a straight twelve-story drop to the bottom. Check out the article from National Geographic® on the physics of waterslides.

While parks do their best to comply to all safety standards, it is up to the individual to determine if they feel that a waterslide is safe for him or her. Previous back injuries and medical conditions should be considered before trying any new, high-speed slide, and a review of the physical requirements (which is always posted by law) should help riders make up their minds. One bad, high-speed slide can result in permanent spinal damage.

Illinois spinal cord injury lawyers know that the cost of care is staggering to families and individuals who sustain a permanent injury. The NSCISC reports that individuals aged 25 to 50 years with High Tetraplegia (C1-C4 damage) can see annual treatment cost (in year one) of more than $1,065,980, with lifetime care costs exceeding $4 million dollars for those injured at the age of 25.

The health care costs, and the loss of quality of independent living, are two factors that make spinal cord injuries life-changing for victims and their families. Protect yourself by being informed about the risks associated with outdoor water recreation, and always use care and caution when diving, sliding, or swimming.

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