FIRST-TIME SURFER SUFFERS RARE SPINAL INJURY
By Dave Etrheim, Air Education and Training Command Ground Safety Division
/ Published June 06, 2012
Air Education and Training Command -- Most people have heard horrifying stories of surfers being killed by sharks or drowning after disappearing in giant waves. But few have heard of a rare spinal injury called surfer myelopathy.
Unfortunately for an Airman learning to surf for the first time, she gained first-hand knowledge of this phenomenon.
After nearly 40 minutes of trying to surf, the Airman made her way to shore and felt a tingling sensation from her waist down. She assumed she was dehydrated, so she lay down on the beach and began to hydrate. When she stood up, she was still so wobbly she needed assistance walking to her car.
Still believing she was either dehydrated or needed to eat, the Airman proceeded to a nearby restaurant. At the restaurant, she required assistance to use the restroom and realized she could not urinate although the need was great. Then the tingling sensation in her legs changed to sharp pain, like needle pricks.
The Airman was escorted to the closest on-base emergency room, where she was diagnosed with surfer myelopathy, a rare non-traumatic spinal cord injury associated with surfing because of spine hyperextension while lying prone on the surfboard. Symptoms include back pain, tingling sensation in the legs, loss of feeling in the legs, inability to walk, paralysis and urinary retention.
The Airman was hospitalized for two days, given steroids for four days, and put on convalescent leave for 14 days, proving sharks and raging waters aren't the only dangers for surfers.