Common Diving Injuries
Diving is a very safe and fun sport. Many athletes can go an entire career unscathed by major injury. However, injuries can occur—from minor smacks in the water to more serious, chronic damage—so it is important to be prepared for any setbacks.
This guide details the most common injuries, how they develop, and how you can prevent getting hurt in the first place.
Smacking & Hitting the Board
In diving, there are two obvious injuries: Smacking the water and hitting the board or platform.
The most common type of diving injury results from “smacking the water—essentially a belly-flop or back-flop where the body lands parallel to the water. These smacks hurt and may cause welts and bruising, but rarely result in more serious physical damage. They can, however, disrupt the psyche.
The invention of dryland diving has greatly decreased the incidences of these accidents. Dryland equipment enables a diver to attempt a new dive in the safety of a harness, either over the water or on a trampoline.
Bubble machines are also useful. They soften the surface of the water and make landing incorrectly less painful.
Make sure the pool is deep enough before diving into the water. According to a 1997 study by the University of Alabama Birmingham, 95 percent of diving–related spinal cord injuries were the result of diving into water less than eight feet deep. Be especially cautious in back yard pools, which are often only eight feet deep with quick rising slopes. All FINA sanctioned diving pools must be at least 12 feet deep.
Hitting the Board
One of the biggest concerns in diving is hitting the board. It is common for a diver to occasionally hit the board or platform over the course of a diving career, but in most cases, the hit is minor and involves just the hands and feet. Usually, the diver just gets a few scrapes or bruises.
If the hand or foot hits the board hard enough, it can cause a fracture, but again that is very rare. Most divers will never hit the springboard or platform with their head. On those rare occasions that it does occur, the hit generally results in a few stitches or a broken nose, though sometimes a diver gets a concussion or more serious injury.
Most diving-board collisions are caused by a poor takeoff from the springboard or platform. The best way to prevent these types of injuries is to continuously practice the fundamentals, including board work and takeoffs. Without a solid grasp of these skills, serious injuries can occur.
It is estimated that a diver diving off the 1-meter springboard will enter the water at an approximate speed of 18.75 mph. From the 10-meter platform, that speed jumps to 35.8 mph and the body feels approximately 20-24 G's of pressure upon entry into the water. It is natural for the body to breakdown now and again under this amount of force and pressure.
Divers also get more subtle, stress injuries as a result of repetitive motions. The body parts most frequently damaged by the continuous wear-and-tear of the sport are the shoulders, wrists and back.
These types of repetitive injuries are often more serious than smacking or hitting the board because they build slowly and can go unnoticed, or discounted as minor aches and pains, for a long period of time.
Most of these injuries are caused by the repetitive nature of diving, specifically:
- Wrists: Weak wrists when entering the water and the repetitive nature of the “flat-hand entry; pressure on the wrists from handstands on platform; high speeds and force of entry on platform; the flick of the wrists on the swim saves.
- Shoulders: Force of the entry on platform; repetitive nature of swimming on the entry; repeatedly rotating shoulders quickly in a press or hurdle; weak shoulders on entry.
- Back: Repetitive nature of forward and back saves; hyper-extension on takeoff or in the air; loose back or stomach upon entry; repetitive lumbar movement under water and in air; weak back upon entry.
Stretching your back, shoulders and wrists before every workout is a great way to guard against injury. Take a look at the stretches on the Importance of Stretching guide on iSport, where you will find some useful exercises that will help prevent some of these injuries.
In addition to stretching, there are specific things a diver can do to help ward off a repetitive injury:
- Wrists: If your wrists are weak, use tape or wrists guards whenever you dive on platform and if needed, 3-meter. Both tools keep the wrists solid and in position when entering the water. Wrist guards also deflect some of the pressure that the wrists would otherwise have to absorb.
- Back: Engaging your core throughout the dive will help protect your back. That is why doing core-strengthening exercises is so important—the stronger the muscles, the less prone to injury they will be.
- Shoulders: The stronger your shoulders, the less prone they will be to injury. Weight machines or body-resistant type of exercises including handstand push-ups, shoulder shrugs, and lat-pulls will all help prevent shoulder damage.
Rest an Injury
No one wants to be injured, and taking all the precautions listed above will help protect against all the unwanted strains and pains. But even the best athletes in the world get injured every once in a while. When that happens, it is best to respect your body and give it the proper attention it needs—and deserves.
After properly resting an injury, most athletes return to the sport performing better than ever.