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Injuries in Surfing - Part 1

As the clocks went forward last weekend and with Spring started in earnest, surfers all over the country will be looking forward to warm summer sessions, long days in the water and throwing that winter wet suit in the corner until next October.

Surfing has seen an explosion in popularity in Ireland in recent years with surf schools on many of our main beaches. Like all sports, injuries do occur in surfing and while the majority of them are not serious, moderate and severe injuries are not uncommon. Worldwide 20,000 surfers require emergency care each year for injuries ranging from severe lacerations, to spinal cord trauma to near drownings.

So what are the most common injuries?

Lacerations and Contusions:

The most common surfing injuries are cuts and bruises  to the head, lower leg and foot. These make up around 40% of all surfing injuries. The main culprit is usually the surfer’s own board, particularly the pointed nose and sharp fins on the underside. Other surfers, their boards and the ocean floor itself are also common causes.

Sprains and Tears:

The next most frequent are soft tissue sprains and tears, however these make up 75% of serious injuries sustained by the surfer. The neck, lower back, shoulder, knee and ankle are most commonly injured either from sudden twisting when falling off a wave or from failed manoeuvre. The cruciates, medial collateral ligament and cartilage of the knee are particularly susceptible to these kinds of high speed manoeuvre.

Overuse Injuries:

Overuse injuries are very common as a result of the  paddling action in surfing with the main areas being the neck, shoulders and lower back. Common conditions include Rotator Cuff Tendonitis of the shoulder leading to pain on the front of the shoulder, repetitive strain of the neck and lower back muscles and facet joints from hyperextending the back and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome can also result from compression to the blood vessels and nerves that run between the first rib and the collar one or between the scalene neck muscles in the neck.


Fractures occur frequently particularly in bigger surf. The head is the most common area with mainly the nose and teeth being affected. As many as 2 million teeth are estimated to be knocked out worldwide each year during surfing. Fractured ribs are also common. The surfer’s own board is again a big culprit resulting in 55% of fractures. Surfing steep waves over a shallow reef is another common cause.

Eye Injuries:

The eye is one area prone to severe damage if it comes in contact with a sharp fin tip of surfer’s board. If the injury is severe enough, a surfer may lose their eyesight. There are also some long term injuries that are thought to result from over exposure to UV light, the drying effects of the wind, dust and sand particles and exposure to salt water. Pingulae may form as nodules of the conjunctiva, as can pterygia onto the cornia, possibly interfering with vision. Occular sunburn is also a possibility as concentrated reflected light from the ocean’s surface, has the same burning effect on surfer’s eyes as snow has on skier’s eyes. It is also possible for the retina to age prematurely and macular degeneration to develop over time.

Ear Injuries:

The eardrum may easily be ruptured or perforated, particularly when the surf is big and hard breaking. Often this may be triggered by the surfer falling into the face of the wave on the ear, suddenly forcing a jet of pressurised water into the tympanic membrane. Surfer’s ear or the presence of bony growths (exostoses) in the external ear canal, is a common condition invariably found in the ears of almost all surfers.

If you enjoyed this blog then make sure to read part 2 of our surfing injuries review where we look at some top tips to avoiding surfing injuries.

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