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Surfing injuries often involve shoulder or knee, study finds

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Surfers can suffer a variety of injuries, ranging from lacerations to concussion, but the most common orthopaedic injuries are seen in the shoulder and knee.

That’s according to a new study by researchers at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), a New York City hospital that specialises in orthopaedic surgery and rheumatic conditions.

Study leader Dr Harry “Tate” Greditzer, IV, a radiologist at HSS, wanted to find out the kinds of orthopaedic injuries a recreational surfer might sustain and how often he or she required surgery.

The researchers conducted a retrospective review of medical records to identify patients with surfing-related injuries who presented at HSS for treatment between 1 January 2009 and 1 August 2018.

They found that shoulder injuries were the most common, accounting for 46% of surfing injuries, followed by injury of the knee (28%), foot or ankle (9%), spine (6%), elbow (6%), and other injuries including rib fracture, muscle strain or muscle laceration (5%).

“Although prior studies have shown that injuries related to surfing are primarily found in the head or lower extremities, our study found upper extremity injuries to be more common,” commented Dr Peter D. Fabricant, paediatric orthopaedic surgeon at HSS and one of the authors of the study. “The majority of upper extremity injuries occurred at the shoulder with anterior shoulder dislocation being the most common diagnosis. Of the presenting knee injuries, a torn medial collateral ligament was the most frequent.”

Among the patients included in the study, 17% needed surgery for any type of surfing injury but the study authors noted that this figure may overestimate the number of surfing injuries in general that require surgery because tertiary care referral centers such as HSS tend to see a greater proportion of serious injuries requiring surgery.

“When compared to other extreme sports, surfing seems relatively safe,” Dr Greditzer said. “However, it’s important to keep in mind that our study looked at recreational surfers. We did not include professional surfers, so the patients in our study were not able to generate as much speed, get barreled, or launch into the air like a professional or amateur can, where the potential for injury is much higher.”

The findings have been published online in the journal Sports Health.