Protect Your Back

One of the most strenuous parts of your dive might not be the dive itself. As a gear-intensive hobby, remember that carrying or just wearing your equipment outside of the water can strain your body.

I am a 25-year-old divemaster, and I recently volunteered to be a safety diver for an offshore powerboat race held over a weekend. Time trials took place on Saturday, and the race was held on Sunday. During the event we were required to be in full gear to reduce the time it would take to get in the water in the event of a boat crash or man-overboard incident. Although we took off our gear when time trials or races weren't going on, I spent the majority of Saturday standing up or sitting on the side of a boat while watching the time trials.

At the end of the day, my dive buddy and I disembarked the safety boat onto a pontoon and began to walk back to our cars approximately 100 meters (328 feet) away. While walking up the pontoon ramp I experienced a sudden sharp, stabbing pain in my lower back and had to immediately remove my scuba gear, which relieved the pain. Whenever I tried to pick up my gear, the pain would intensify again, so I had to ask my buddy to carry my equipment to the car. While I was walking, the pain would suddenly return, so I had to rest for a minute a few times during the short walk. Sitting down in the car completely relieved the pain, but it returned whenever I tried to stand or walk.

I had strained the erector spinae muscles on my right side. I went straight home and applied ice for the first few hours and arranged for someone to take my place the next day. The following day, standing and walking were extremely painful, and trips to the bathroom were difficult. Bath salts and Tiger Balm ointment helped reduce the pain. The next four to five days involved hydrotherapy in a spa bath, physical therapy, Voltaren (an anti-inflammatory drug) and plenty of rest. All the pain, swelling and weakness resolved within seven days of the injury, but I continued to avoid heavy lifting and diving for a few more days.

In hindsight, the injury was caused by me choosing to stand in full scuba gear to watch most of the event, which took its toll on my back muscles. I did not stretch prior to donning my gear, and I did not feel any pain or discomfort until the strain occurred. In the future I plan to exercise to increase my back strength, stretch before donning scuba gear and limit the time spent standing in scuba gear as much as possible. I hope this story makes others aware of the risk of back injury and the importance of fitness, stretching, good posture and not overdoing it when wearing dive gear.
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© Alert Diver — Q2 Spring 2018