FAQs

1. What causes Surfer’s Myelopathy or SM?
2. What are the symptoms of SM?
3. Who is susceptible to SM?
4. How long does recovery take? What are the chances of full recovery?
5. Can other activities besides surfing cause SM?
6. Where does this happen most and why?
7. How common is SM? How many cases have been reported? How likely is this to happen to me?
8. Is there a history of patients with surfer’s myelopathy having reoccurring problems?
9. What are some forms of rehab?
10. How can you prevent SM? What signs to look for?

What causes Surfer’s Myelopathy (SM)?

Surfer’s Myelopathy (SM) is a type of spinal cord injury that can inflict first-time surfers. It is not an injury that is caused by a traumatic impact to the spinal cord. SM can result in paralysis, usually from the waist down. The duration of paralysis varies from person to person. While some people fully recover from surfer’s myelopathy, others are permanently paralyzed. SM is believed to be caused by the frequent repetition of hyperextension of the spinal cord. This is thought to cause a kink in the blood vessel that eventually leads to spinal cord damage.

What are the symptoms of SM?

The symptoms of Surfer’s Myelopathy are as follows, but not confined to:

– Back Pain
– Tingling sensation in the legs
– Loss of feeling in legs
– Inability to walk
– Paralysis
– Urinary Retention

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Who is susceptible to SM?

Although it is still uncertain who is specifically at risk for developing SM, among the reported cases to date, there have been some potential risk factors. The common factor among all the cases has been inexperience. Other potential risk factors that have been identified are body habitus (thin with underdeveloped musculature), dehydration (related to travel and/or prolonged hours at the beach), and long-distance travel (associated with hypercoagulable state and deep venous thrombosis).

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How long does recovery take? What are the chances of full recovery?

The recovery process varies from individual to individual but we do know that a quick response will mean a greater chance of recovery.

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Can other activities besides surfing cause SM?

Since SM is caused by the frequent repetition of hyperextension of the spinal cord causing a kink in the blood vessel, any activity that requires hyperextension of the spine puts you at risk for SM. Some examples are certain yoga poses and getting your hair washed in the sinks at a salon.

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Where does this happen most and why?

Since two of the potential risk factors of SM are inexperience and long-distance travel, it is safe to say that the region were SM is common is in locations were vacationers travel to, spend long hours at the beach, and try surfing for the first time. At this time, most cases have been reported in Hawaii.

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How common is SM? How many cases have been reported? How likely is this to happen to me?

The research and studies published claim that surfers have a better chance of being bitten by a shark than being stricken with surfer’s myelopathy. This may be true but it is important to recognize that SM has only recently been recognized in the medical community. There may be many individuals who suffered from the non-traumatic spinal injury but were not properly diagnosed due to the lack of awareness and knowledge.

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Is there a history of patients with surfer’s myelopathy having reoccurring problems years after the original event?

Due to the lack of follow-up after patients are discharged from the hospital or rehab centers it is currently difficult to track recovery and reoccurring problems post-injury. SMF hopes to build a database of people who have been diagnosed with SM in order to successfully track recovery progress as well as learn more about the risk factors associated with SM.

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What are some forms of rehab?

Traditional rehabilitation encourages paralyzed patients to build strength and learn to live in a wheelchair. Although these skills are beneficial and necessary to daily life during recovery, other forms of rehab such as reflexive walking, exercise-based training, locomotor training, electrical stimulation bikes, and alternative therapies like hyperbaric oxygen, acupuncture and reiki also show promise during different stages of the rehabilitation process. To learn more about the different forms of rehab please email us at info@smawareness.org.

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How can you prevent SM? What signs to look for?

Please see TIPS FOR A HEALTHY SPINE for first-time surfers.

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The mission of SMF is to increase the awareness of surfer’s myelopathy in order to provide support and to promote injury prevention, research, and treatment.