Shallow-water spinal injuries : devastating but preventable

Vlok, A. J. ; Petersen, I. ; Dunn, R. N. ; Stander, J. (2010)


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Background: Shallow-water diving injuries have devastating consequences for patients and their families, requiring intensive use of resources in both the acute and rehabilitative phases of injury. With the final clinical outcome often poor, the question is raised as to whether a target group can be identified for whom to implement a preventive programme. Objective: To evaluate the demographics, clinical features and outcomes of shallow-water diving injuries in an acute spinal cord injury (ASCI) unit. Materials and methods: All patients admitted to the ASCI unit with diving-related injuries were entered into the study. Data regarding demographics, injury profile and subsequent management were collated. All case notes and X-rays were reviewed. Ethical approval was obtained. Results: Forty-six patients were reviewed from 19 April 2003 to 8 February 2009. A steady annual increase in diving injuries was noted. A very specific patient profile was identified: 91% male incidence, average age 23 years, 37% admitted alcohol use, with a summer-time prevalence. Compression-flexion type injuries were most prevalent, with an orthopaedic level of C5 and neurological level of C4 being the most common injury sites. A third of diving injuries occurred in the sea, 20% in swimming pools, 20% in rivers, 11% in tidal pools and 4% in dams. Conclusion: A very specific patient profile was identified, and the severity of shallow-water diving injuries was confirmed. No current preventive programme exists except for a single television advertisement. These data will be used to motivate further educational and preventive programmes for reducing the incidence of diving-related injuries.

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