Surfing Woman

Words by Nick Gardiner and Will Dixon

Most surfers will have had at least one injury at some point in their waveriding lives.

Research suggests you are most likely to get injured at 27 years old via a laceration or impact during August.

However, the reality is you are the key factor that will determine where, when and how likely you are to be injured.

Here is Fit For Sport’s guide to the five most common surfing injuries…

Warning: the next image is not for the squeamish...

Keala 2

Laceration is not just the name of an Indonesian surf break, it's also one of the most common injuries for surfers.

The awesome big wave surfer Keala Kennelly once suffered a horrendous laceration which needed 30 stitches after a wipeout in Teahupoo.

How do I spot it?

A pretty easy one, you’re likely to know if you have been cut.

How do I treat it?

Clean the wound and add a sterile compression while trying to keep the affected area above heart level to reduce the bleeding.

If the bleeding repeatedly makes its way through the bandages, then stitches are likely to be needed.

If the bleeding is profuse then apply as much pressure as you can and call for an ambulance (or make your own way to the nearest medical centre if you are somewhere remote).

You need to be as careful as you can if you have been cut to avoid the risk of infection, not least if you were surfing near a sewage outlet, where Hepatitis A will be a risk.

Alternatively, if you have been in contact with live reef then a staph infection could be a problem. Either of these scenarios requires seeking medical help as soon as you can.

How do I avoid it?

Not easily unless you go for a 6:4 wettie and stick to beach breaks. Even then you have fin chops to contend with.

The best thing you can do is research the break, know your limits and tap all the local knowledge you can.

Keala 1

How do I spot it?

If you have been knocked out, then there’s a good chance you may have concussion.

The telltale symptoms are headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, double vision, tinnitus and disruption to sleep.

The physical signs are much like that of someone who is drunk; poor co-ordination, slurred speech, vomiting and impaired performance.

How do I treat it?

You should seek medical assistance for a neurological assessment and possibly a CT-Scan to check for spinal or brain injury.

If you were unconscious for more than 5 minutes, then observation in hospital is recommended.

You should remember there is the possibility of a delayed bleed around the brain, the consequences for which can be fatal.

So it is better to be safe than sorry and get checked out.

How do I avoid it?

Your choice of break is obviously a huge factor.

Surfing over shallow reef or in a heavy shore dump will greatly increase your chance of trauma to the head, so choose carefully.

A hard shelled helmet is great for reducing lacerations but there is limited evidence for it reducing the risk posed by concussive forces.

However, it is thought that improved strength of the neck muscles allow a greater absorption of forces that impact the head so it might be worth looking to include neck strengthening in your training.

How do I spot it?

Unlike the other traumatic injuries mentioned here, shoulder issues for surfers are normally an overuse problem caused by repetitive paddling, unaccustomed volume or intensity of surfing and poor stabilising muscles.

Impingement will normally be characterised by pain on overhead activities so this might be during paddling.

For bad cases, even day to day activities like reaching up to cupboards can cause pain.

This will normally be sharp and intense but subsides to a throb once the shoulder is relaxed.

How do I treat it?

Avoid anything that causes the sharp pain but still try to keep the shoulder as mobile as possible.

A sports therapist can apply mobilisations to the joint to ease the pain and help resolve the problem.

How do I avoid it?

The most important thing you can do is work on the stabilising muscles of the shoulder and the key ones are known as your rotator cuff.

These muscles are activated best with low weights and high reps using internal and external rotation of the shoulder.

This kind of training will help to stop the big bulky muscles like your deltoids pulling your humerus bone out of position and nipping soft tissue.

Maya Gabreira

How to spot it?

Another impact related problem is bruising from contact with the beach, reef, boards and other surfers.

The minor cases are nothing to worry about but at it's worst swelling within the fascia, which surrounds the muscle can restrict blood flow to the point of threatening life or risking amputation.

These kinds of bruises will normally continue to get progressively worse after the event and you are likely to lose more and more function.

How to treat it?

Most bruising will respond well to rest, ice, compression and elevation but for more severe cases medical help may be required for pain relief, to release the pressure of the trapped fluid.

How to avoid it?

The best thing you can do to protect yourself against contusions is be well conditioned for surfing.

That does not mean having a great “beach body" will save you – instead you should make sure your training is specific to the type of surfing you do.

For example, improved core stability and agility work should reduce the chance of taking a tumble in the wrong place. However, don’t forget there is no substitute for the ability to read the wave.

Fractures and dislocations are also common for surfers and normally occur from the same sort of incidents.

Surfing Surfer Sarah Lee

How to spot it?

Back injuries will mostly occur as a result of a wipeout and the associated twists and turns forced upon the torso, but any sudden movements have the potential to damage a poorly conditioned back.

Pain will normally be sharp at first and later develop into an ache and can be extremely restrictive in some cases.

How to treat it?

Contrary to previous beliefs, keeping the back mobile within pain-free thresholds is the key to optimising recovery time.

Hands-on treatment depends on what structures are damaged, which could be ligaments, muscles, tendons, nerves, vertebral joints or intervertebral discs.

A sports therapist may use electrotherapy, mobilisations, massage, exercises and stretches to resolve the pain.

How do I avoid it?

Core is king when it comes to protecting the back.

There is lots of information out there for how to do core work but you should be aware that it is important to know how well you activate your core muscles such as Transverse Abdominus before starting exercises that may be too difficult.

A sports therapist can assess this for you. Working on your flexibility may also reduce the risk of injury and a dynamic warm up/stretching routine is a good start.

There are lots of other common injuries and problems surfers have to contend with such as drowning, ear infections, perforated ear drums, stings and bites.

What you personally are most at risk of largely depends on your physical condition, experience and type of surfing you do.

To find out more head to or follow them on Twitter here.

Disclaimer: The information contained within this article is provided in good faith, and every reasonable effort is made to ensure that it is accurate and up to date. Accordingly, this information is provided ‘as is’ without warranty of any kind. FFS excludes all warranties, either express or implied. In no event shall FFS be liable for any damage arising, directly or indirectly, from the use of the information contained within this article including damages arising from inaccuracies, omissions or errors.

Any person relying on any of the information contained within this article or making any use of the information contained herein, shall do

so at his/her own risk. FFS recommends that any sporting injury should be properly assessed by a fully qualified Sports Therapist. 05/09/11

Nick Gardiner