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Surfing Injuries and How To Prevent Them

Posted Oct 12 2010 12:00am

Surf girl “The joy of surfing is so many things combined, from the physical exertion of it, to the challenge of it, to the mental side of the sport.”
-Kelly Slater

 I was introduced to surfing by famous musician and surf demigod, Donovan Frankereiter.  After thirty minutes I knew I was hooked for life. The combination of the beautiful California coast line with the raw power of the ocean acts as a soothing agent for my chiropractic soul.  As a musculoskeletal expert, I recognize the injurious threats of the sport and want to educate others on ways to protect oneself while surfing.  Next to lacerations, musculoskeletal injuries are the most common affliction amongst surfers. These injuries can range from mild contusions (bruises) to acute sprains and strains of the lumbar and cervical spine.  Acute musculoskeletal injuries usually result from a wipeout.  A wipeout is defined as contact with the ground surface whether it be reef, rock or sand.  Injury caused by a wipeout depends on the type of ground surface, the surfer’s position, and by what body part contacts the ground surface. Common injuries include:

  • Over-flexion of the cervical or lumbar spine
  • Forced shoulder depression and contra lateral flexion of the cervical spine resulting in traction to the brachial plexus
  • Landing on the point of the shoulder causing trauma to the acromio-clavicular joint or in adolescents, fracture to the clavicle or the shoulder being forced into anterior subluxation.  

Acute knee, ankle, ligament, and joint surface injuries can result from a big drop at take-off.  When standing up on fast steep waves, the surfer’s feet can leave the board and then find it again at the bottom of the wave. If the surfer becomes unbalanced for whatever reason, they can land off center and put excessive rotational or shearing force through the knees.

The ability to surf both safely and successfully depends on the surfer’s flexibility and conditioning.  A surfer’s flexibility is key to both injury prevention and performance.  You don’t often see surfer’s stretching on the beach, but just 10 minutes of loosening up before jumping in the water can make a big difference in performance and injury prevention.  Especially important stretches include:

  • Thoracic spine extension
  • Lumbar spine flexion and extension
  • Hip rotation and flexion (figure 4)
  • Ankle dorsiflexion

Conditioning maneuvers should be dynamic and involve explosive movements.  When working on overall conditioning one should work towards developing power using workouts such as plyometrics and agility exercises.  Strength training should involve closed chain exercises involving both upper body and lower body to provide strength to push off and stand up on the board.  Remember to not compromise flexibility for strength. 

Chiropractic adjustments can also help keep the body finely tuned for surfing.

By involving flexibility and conditioning into your surf routine, you’ll be guaranteed to hang ten with the best of them!


Dr. Amy Sanders D.C.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Amy Sanders at Executive Express Chiropractic in downtown San Francisco, call 415-392-2225.

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