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Ocean waves hold potential for spinal cord injuries

Ocean waves hold potential for spinal cord injuries

September 18, 2014

Millions of people are drawn to the beaches of Hawaii each year for sun and surfing, even with the threat of spinal cord injuries lurking from one bad fall.

Traffic crashes, falls, violence and sports injuries are the main causes of spinal cord injuries, most of which are preventable, according to the Mayo Clinic.Yet each year, some 250,000 to 500,000 people worldwide sustain injuries in which the vertebrae, ligaments or disks in the spinal column or the spinal cord are damaged, the World Health Organization reports.

The waves that attract swimmers and surfers to Hawaii don’t have to be big to cause damage. In fact, experts say inexperienced people who go over small waves headfirst are most likely to suffer spinal cord injuries.

A sudden, traumatic blow to the spine that breaks, dislocates, crushes or compresses the vertebrae can cause a traumatic spinal cord injury. These injuries are likely to take place in car accidents and even football games. A gunshot or knife wound that penetrates or cuts the spinal cord can cause a similar injury, and additional damage can occur for days and weeks because of bleeding, swelling and inflammation.

Common causes of spinal cord injuries in the United States, according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Auto and motorcycle accidents
    are the main cause, accounting for 40 percent of new injuries annually.
  • Falls after age 65
    are the most common cause of spinal cord injuries for senior citizens.
  • Acts of violence
    from incidents such as shootings and stabbings lead to 15 percent of spinal cord injuries, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes reports.
  • Sports and recreation injuries
    cause 8 percent of these injuries. These can stem from athletic activities such as sports that involve collisions and diving in shallow water.
  • Alcohol
    is a factor in 25 percent of spinal cord injuries.
  • Diseases
    such as cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis and spinal cord inflammation can cause such injuries as well.

Hawaii’s pounding surf

Contrary to popular belief, the popular surfing spot of Sandy Beach in Oahu isn’t the most likely place for broken necks and backs on the Hawaiian Islands, according to a Star Bulletin article. That distinction belongs to Hapuna Beach in Hawaii.

Hawaii’s most dangerous beaches for spinal cord injuries are:

Most of the 11 swimmers or body boarders who suffered spinal injuries at Hapuna from 2001 to 2006 were hurt in waves no higher than 4 feet, according to West Hawaii District Capt. Chris Stelfox of the Ocean Safety Division.

Even though medium-size waves can seem harmless, they break over knee-deep water “really hard,” causing inexperienced swimmers and surfers to fall head first into the bottom, Stelfox said.

That can lead to trauma to the spine and serious injury, with symptoms including partial or complete loss of sensory functions or motor control of the arms, legs and body.

According to a recent news report, a 17-year-old Arizona teenager was on a family vacation in Hawaii in July and suffered a spinal injury when doing somersaults into the waves at Kaanapali Beach. When a wave turned out to be less deep than anticipated, the teen, who was captain of his swim team, somersaulted and landed head first in the sand and injured his C-5 vertebrae. The teen’s vertebra was bruised rather than fractured as initially thought and he has regained some movement in his feet while in a hospital in Maui.

Better care

Failure to receive the proper care and treatment immediately and in the long term can cause spinal cord injuries to grow worse, according to the World Health Organization. Important measures are:

  • Pre-hospital handling,
    including recognition of a potential spinal cord injury, quick evaluation and the start of injury management with spine immobilization.
  • Acute care
    such as surgery based on the injury’s severity and the patient’s and family’s wishes.
  • Continuing health care
    and education as well as access to products such as catheters to cut down the risk of secondary problems.
  • Physical rehabilitation and mental health services
    access to build the body’s ability to function and emotional well-being to enable the person to become as independent as possible. Managing bladder and bowel functions is crucial.
  • Access to assistive devices
    access to build the body’s ability to function and emotional well-being to enable the person to become as independent as possible. Managing bladder and bowel functions is crucial.
  • Access to assistive devices
    that enable the person to perform daily functions and reduce dependency. In the world’s poor and middle-income countries, only 5 to 15 percent of people are able to get the devices they need.
  • Skilled providers
    who can give the medical care and rehabilitation services the person needs to build a better quality of life.

A spinal cord injury could occur as a result of a car accident caused by another driver or surfing accident.

If you or a loved one suffered a spinal cord injury due to the negligence of another, contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can help you determine if you are eligible for financial compensation. You will need help navigating the legal system to ensure you receive an award that will enable you to cope with the injury the best way possible.

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