4 Tips for Preventing Spinal Cord Injury While Diving

Last month, the MLN Law blog reported on Matthew Blaylock, a Metro Atlanta athlete who suffered a spinal cord injury after diving into the shallow end of a swimming pool. A recent report in the Cincinnati, Ohio Middletown Journal brought to light some important information on the devastating impact of spinal cord injuries such as the one Blaylock, a promising athlete with a scholarship and a college football career ahead of him, suffered back in May.

When a person dives head first into water that is too shallow, a spinal cord injury can occur. In most shallow diving incidents when the diver’s head hits bottom the vertebrae that encircle the spinal cord can actually collapse. Sometimes the spinal cord is so severely damaged that it is no longer able to transmit nerve impulses to and from the brain. In that case, paralysis occurs.

“Witnessing a life-altering injury of this kind is probably the most tragic and preventable event I see,” Dr. Charles Kuntz, IV, a neurosurgeon at the University of Cincinnati Neuroscience Institute and the Mayfield Clinic told the Middletown Journal. “With one unfortunate decision, the life of a healthy young person is utterly transformed. The individual is likely to be dependent on machines for the rest of his or her life.”

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, an estimated 11,000 spinal cord injuries occur in the United States each year. Males suffer 81.2 percent of these injuries, and diving is the fourth leading cause of spinal cord injury among males.

The sad fact is that Kuntz is correct. Spinal cord injuries as the result of diving into shallow water are one of the most preventable accidents out there. Parents, teachers, camp counselors and anyone who swims should take note of these few simple tips to prevent a spinal cord injury due to shallow diving:

1.) Never dive into water less than 10 or 12 feet deep. There is little chance of a diver hitting his or her head on a hard surface in deep water.

2.) When diving into a body of water of unknown depth, always test the waters by first diving in feet first. This simple test can prevent spinal cord injury and save lives.

3.) Follow “No Diving” warnings at public pools. Public pools are highly regulated and those warning signs are there because officials have calculated that the pool is not deep enough for diving.

4.) Never dive into an above ground pool. Above ground pools are rarely, if ever, deep enough for diving. Further, rocks and the hard ground beneath above ground pools are a spinal cord injury hazard.

It’s hot out there this summer and when there’s a pool or lake nearby, it’s certainly tempting to dive in as quickly as possible. But think safety first and don’t risk your life or your mobility for a quick dip.