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Back and shoulder injuries common in competitive diving

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Competitive divers face a high risk of injuring their shoulders, back, elbows and wrists, as well as other body parts, according to a paper published in Current Sports Medicine Reports, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.

There are injury risks in training — on land and in water — as well as in competition, said Dr Nathaniel Jones, a primary care and sports medicine physician. Dr Jones is also an assistant professor in the department of orthopaedic surgery and rehabilitation at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

“Even when a dive is perfectly executed, injuries can occur, whether traumatic or from overuse,” Dr Jones wrote.

Divers hit the water at up to 19 mph from a springboard and up to 37 mph from a 10-metre platform. After hitting the water, their velocity decreases by more than 50% in a fraction of a second.

“These incredible velocities and impact forces are thought to be large contributors to competitive diving injuries,” Dr Jones explained. “With such forces, injuries can occur not only in the setting of a dive gone wrong but also more commonly secondary to an accumulation of exposures to repetitive forces.”

With the possible exception of shoulder injuries, back injuries appear to be the most common diving injuries, research suggests. One study found that after age 13, divers have a 45% chance of having back pain within a year. Another study found that divers are at risk for back problems at a younger age than the general population.

Less common problems include perforated eardrums from landing on the ear; corneal abrasions; concussions; and anxiety and psychological stress from learning complex dives and the pressure to perform.

Divers who restrict their calorie intake in order to be lean and muscular may also experience low energy and fatigue and an increased injury rate. The emphasis on body type for better performance and optimal appearance also puts divers at higher risk for eating disorders, Dr Jones Warned.

He went on to highlight possible areas for future research, including the large forces that suddenly dissipate when divers enter the water and the repetitive exposure to these forces.