by Elizabeth Seznov
ER nurse, Shelley Gutierrez, and ER physician, Dr. Larry Burbridge, with local San Clemente surfer, Eddie Kuzmack.San Clemente is well known as one of the favorite surfing spots in Southern California. The beaches are beautiful, the weather is breathtaking and the waves are extraordinary. Surfers continue to discover their favorite spots to catch the best waves and the city is proud to have many of their surfers among the professional ranks. USA Today even names Trestles one of the nation’s top 5 surfing spots.
With the popularity of the sport so high it’s not uncommon for physicians at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center–San Clemente (SMMC-SC) to see surfing accidents throughout the year. As temperatures rise and thousands of people head into the water this summer emergency room physicians at Saddleback Memorial want to share some of the common surfing injuries they treat and some tips on staying safe while you wait to catch the next big wave.
Emergency Room Director at SMMC-SC, Dr. Larry Burbridge, a Board Certified Emergency Physician, says “Awareness is the key to safe surfing. Pay attention to water and weather conditions and don’t rush into the water without knowing the skills necessary to surf.”
Dr. Burbridge says many of the surfing injuries he sees in the ER include lacerations (cuts), head and neck injuries, fractures, ruptured eardrums and bruises. The majority of injuries involve the head and neck, which means that proper stabilization is crucial after a serious accident.
“Most of the surfing injuries we see are actually caused by the surf board,” says Dr. Burbridge.
Researchers confirmed Dr. Burbridge’s observation in the largest study of surfing injuries to date that surveyed more than 1,350 suffers and appeared in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine in 2002*. The study by Andrew Nathanson, M.D. found that sixty-seven percent of all surfing injuries were related to contact with a surfboard. The researchers in the study recommend that surfers wear protective equipment and that surfboards be improved to reduce injuries without changing the performance of the board.
So who is most likely to get injured? Believe it or not the study revealed that more advanced surfers are at increased risk for significant injury because the better the surfer the more likely he/she is to catch larger waves and attempt more difficult moves.
“As with any sport, you need to be careful to protect yourself from injury, no matter the level of experience,” says Dr. Burbridge.
If you are a surfer it’s important to know that chronic injuries may also occur. Some surfers complain of having ear problems, especially if they surf in cold water. This may cause bony growths in your ear canal which may lead to hearing problems and ear infections. Talk to your primary care physician if you are experiencing ear pain, trouble hearing, or fluid secretion from your ears. Dr. Burbridge recommends using earplugs as an easy way to reduce most ear problems.
Another common chronic injury is muscle strains that tend to occur in the shoulder, neck and back. In the study previously cited, researchers showed that respondents in the survey who had been surfing more than 20 years had a significantly higher rate of shoulder strain than those surfing less than 20 years.
Muscle strains and sprains can be very painful. While they are difficult to prevent, Dr. Burbridge recommends stretching before going into the ocean and even warming up before stretching. An easy walk or light jog will warm up your muscles and make your stretching more effective.
Finally, before heading into the ocean, surfers should be aware of marine animals such as stingrays, jellyfish, and even sharks. Also, be aware of coral reef and sharp rocks which may cause painful cuts and injuries.
While you may not always be able to anticipate what’s in the ocean, remember to not surf over shallow coral reefs and avoid surfing too close to the pier, especially if you are inexperienced.
“Surfing is a great sport enjoyed by people of all ages,” says Dr. Burbridge. “Be aware of your own abilities and know how to react in case of an emergency by taking a first aid and CPR class.”
Remember these final tips before you head to the beach this summer:
Never surf alone.
Follow advice and warnings given verbally by lifeguards or by signs placed on the beach including notices or flags.
Don’t surf under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Learn CPR and first aid.
Don’t forget to wear sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher, and reapply frequently while in the sun and water.
Take the time to register and attend a CPR course – and save someone’s life. Saddleback Memorial-San Clemente now offers CPR classes to the community beginning August 17. The course covers guidelines for adult cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and includes information on first aid for choking. Also learn how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED). Upon successful completion of the class, students will receive an American Heart Association CPR participation card.b
For more information contact the health information center 949-452-7255.
*Nathanson, A., Haynes, P. and Galanis, D. Surfing injuries. American Journal or Emergency Medicine, 20:155-160, 2002.