Being out at the sea, riding the mountainous waves, listening to the surf pounding in your ear can be an exhilarating experience. That, together with advances in surfboard technology, has made surfing an increasingly popular sport. However, it can be hazardous especially if you are starting out or if you are not physically fit. Even seasoned surfers may push their skills to the limit by tackling bigger waves and making daring manoeuvres that can land them into difficulty. Many people have surfing injuries. Some common surfing injuries are:
Lacerations and/or contusions
Cuts and bruises to the head, legs and feet can result from coming into contact either with their own or another surfer’s board, the ocean floor, rock or debris. Sprains and strains involving the lumbar (lower back) or cervical (neck) regions, the shoulder and ankle are also common.
Fractures to the head, ribs and shoulder may occur as the surfer comes into contact with a reef, rock or the ocean floor. In some cases the nose or teeth may be broken.
Ear and eye damage
The surfer’s ears and eyes are also subjected to injury from direct trauma or from the UV rays of the sun reflecting on the water. A “wipe-out” may also perforate the eardrum. Over time, surfers can develop bony growths within the outer ear, a condition known as surfer’s ear that leads to deafness.
Overuse injuries take place as a result of paddling for prolonged periods face down on the board. The shoulder, neck and back are most affected.
Surfing injuries can be prevented with the use of protective equipment. Nose guards attached to the front of the board can prevent injury if you come into contact with the board. Helmets are necessary when surfing over large waves or reefs; wet suits worn for warmth will guard against cuts from fins, and hoods can protect your ears during a wipe-out. Booties are worn for warmth by some surfers and these can also protect the feet from cuts.
Anyone wanting to engage in this sport should be a strong swimmer, be physically fit and have a good understanding of what surfing entails before getting into the water. A physiotherapy program can help prepare the beginner for his new sport. If you have suffered injury, your physiotherapist will work on balance, flexibility, proprioception (sense of your own body position and orientation) and strength. Range of motion particularly in the legs and core muscles and shoulder will help. This, together with use of protective gear, will help you make a safe return to surfing.