Think before you leap
Let’s say you’re 16 years old and you and your buddies are on a hike in the nearby mountain foothills tucked in between the mountains ahead. It’s the first week after hearing the last final bell of the school year ringing in the freedom of summer.
As you reach a turn in the path, you can hear it roar. Then, suddenly you see the blue, dazzling rush of river and white-water rapids beckoning ahead. What could be better than being first to jumping into that delicious pool of glacial runoff on a warm summer day?
But before you take that first leap into watery bliss, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I know how to swim?
- Do I know the risks of diving?
- Are my friends paying attention to my whereabouts in the water?
- Do I have knowledge about the strength of river undercurrents?
- Do I know how deep the water is where I plan to jump in?
- Do I know how cold glacial river water is – even in summer?
- Do I know if there are any thunder and rain storms coming in our direction?
- Do I know if there are any shallow boulders or tree stumps lying just beneath the water’s moving surface?
- Do I have minimal first aid knowledge about treating minor scrapes and strains?
- Will my cellphone have service where I am?
- Do my parents or guardians know the location of where we were headed?
- We’re just having fun. What could go wrong?
Accidental swimming and diving data
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that on any given day, about 10 people die from unintentional drowning, the majority of which are not boat-related. The CDC also notes additional statistics that claim about one in five people who drown are children age 14 and younger and that for every death, another five require emergency department care.
Further, more than 50% of unintentional drowning victims who are treated in the emergency room will require hospitalization that may lead to severe brain damage or other long-term disability. It’s also possible that the patient may lose basic functioning, culminating into a permanent, vegetative state.
Swimming is a great way to get or stay fit
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) urges anyone who is looking for a beneficial fitness routine to try swimming as a part of an exercise program. It helps build endurance and strength. Swimming also is an excellent way to work out without having to be concerned about the negative effects of high-impact exercise – swimming actually protects bones and joints.
Guidelines for preventing swimming injuries
Shoulder pain from swimming is typically the most common complaint due to the repetitive motion. To help prevent shoulder pain after swimming, find exercises that strengthen the muscles around the shoulder and upper back.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) sites data that many injuries from swimming could be prevented by paying attention to a list of simple safety precautions listed below:
- Learn how to swim and don’t swim alone. Swim in supervised areas or with lifeguards on duty. Wear a lifejacket if you’re not an experienced swimmer.
- Do not attempt to swim when you are too tired, cold or overheated.
- Never run and enter waves headfirst when swimming in open waters. Check first to be sure the water is clear of undercurrents or other hazards.
- Check water levels after a rainstorm as flooding may occur and currents may become stronger. Check for any new water hazards.
- It is dangerous to be in water during an electrical storm. Avoid swimming in an area where storms are forecast.
- Alcohol and water do not mix. It affects judgment, slows movement, impairs vision and makes it more difficult to stay warm.
- Be knowledgeable about first aid treatment and administration.
- Be prepared for emergency situations and how to reach emergency medical and rescue personnel.
If you swim in a neighborhood or other pool, it’s a good idea to make certain:
- Depth indicators and diving areas are clearly marked.
- The pool is well lit.
- The pool is secured with fencing to keep people and children from swimming without permission or supervision.
- Enforce pool hours; not allowing guests to swim alone or after drinking alcohol.
- If you are at a community pool, check to make certain lifeguards or people trained in water safety and life-saving techniques are present.
Learn how to dive with safety in mind
Spinal cord injuries from diving accidents affect more than 1,900 people every year. The majority of these severe injuries result in paralysis of all four limbs. AAOS advises divers to follow these tips:
- Do not dive in shallow water or murky water where you cannot see the bottom.
- Check the entire diving area to make certain the water is deep enough for diving.
- If you are swimming in a pool, only bounce once and only dive off the end of the diving board.
- Do not run on the board or attempt to dive far out in the water.
- Swim away from the board immediately to make room for the next diver. There should be only one diver at a time on the board.
For more information, visit these websites:
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) Orthoinfo, https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/staying-healthy/swimming-injury-prevention/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cec.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/water-safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html
By Holly Harmon for Puget Sound Orthopaedics