What is surfer’s myelopathy?
Surfer’s myelopathy (SM) is a non-traumatic spinal cord injury that affects first time surfers.
The novice surfer is affected by a loss of blood flow to the spinal cord, known as an ischemic injury, believed to be caused by the hyperextension of the back while laying on the surfboard for an extended period of time. Surfers begin to feel a back pain that is followed by decrease sensation and gradual impaired mobility in the legs. Some patients have been permanently paralyzed while others have fully recovered. There is no treatment for this injury, but experts advise that first-time surfers should not stay in the water for a long time and should get out of the water at the first sign of unusual back pain.
Between January 2001 and December 2002, only nine cases of SM were documented. Because it is a relatively newly recognized injury, existing knowledge is limited. Due to this scarcity in knowledge, especially in the medical community and general population, SM is under-diagnosed and under-reported. The need to fill gaps in knowledge is critical, as those who were diagnosed with SM had unremarkable symptoms and rates of recovery differ from case to case.
In the medical community, standardization of the definition of this injury, its symptoms, and treatment is crucial. In the general population, increased awareness of SM and its symptoms will lead to decreased incidence of SM and decreased severity of SM injury. Lack of awareness among the medical and surfing community, and the general population allows SM, a potentially crippling condition, to pervade insidiously in an activity that represents freedom, excitement, and vitality.