People often think that the only dangers surfers face are things like bone-pounding waves, shark coral reefs and hungry sharks. However, hardly any beginning surfer is aware of the rare, but dangerous condition known as surfer’s myelopathy, a paralysis that can happen to beginning surfers. It is preventable, but one has to know about it in order to take measures so it doesn’t happen to oneself.
Surfer’s myelopathy is a nontraumatic spine injury. It usually occurs when surfers arch their back too often or too long while paddling on a surfboard. The arching of the back reduces blood flow to the spine, which can lead to paralysis of the legs. Even a one-hour surfing lesson is enough to cause this. People who became afflicted with this condition sometimes notice a slight back pain while surfing. A short while later, they are unable to move their legs or walk. Some recover completely over time, some never do, some only do partially. It depends on the severity of
the injury and each individual person.
In a study that was published in 2004 in the journal Spine, doctors at Straub Clinic and Hospital on Oahu reported nine cases of surfer’s paralysis between June 1998 and January 2003. Of the nine, three recovered completely. Four had mild residual weakness, but with full feeling. Three had persistent urinary trouble and one remained paraplegic (Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information).
So if you’re a beginning surfer and are out on your surfboard for the first few times, watch out for these symptoms while surfing: Mild weakness, sensory problems and back pain. A good advice for first-time surfers is to not surf for a long time and to stop immediately and head back to the beach if you are feeling the slightest back pain. Have many breaks during your first surfing lessons. In other words, take it easy.