Experienced Spine Surgeon Promotes ‘Feet First' When Entering Lakes, Rivers

posted by Dr. Daniel McGuire on Tuesday, May 25, 2021

During the summer of 1988, I was living in Illinois and working towards completing my fellowship in spine surgery. I was getting a lot of experience that summer. In fact, too much.

It was a drought year and the lakes and rivers were low, similar to how they are now in our region. Because so many people weren’t careful when diving or jumping into the water, I took care of so many spine injuries. Some patients were paralyzed for life. Some died.

I want everyone to remember these words when jumping into water: “Feet first, especially the first time.”  If my words could save just one person from a broken neck, I’d be grateful.

Nearly 26,000 individuals are treated for diving-related injuries in the U.S. each year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Approximately 800 of those injuries result in paralysis.

Number one rule of jumping or diving into a lake, river, pond or pool:  Don’t dive into any water where the depth is not known. Again, remember: Feet First.

Diving is the fifth leading cause of spinal cord injury for men and women, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center.

Other rules to keep in mind:

  • Just because you used to dive somewhere does not make it safe. You may have grown and underwater surfaces may have shifted.
  • Know that there are often hidden objects in lakes, rivers, etc.
  • The best way to enter the water is always feet first. Even then, pay attention to the two rules above as you need to know the depth of the water and if any objects (tree branches, rocks, etc.) are below the surface.
  • Remember, that water moves. This means that what was a deep area, particularly in a river, one day may now have a sandbar under the surface the next day.
  • Don’t drink alcohol and participate in water sports.

A water accident can result in death, paralysis or brain injury. Any injury to the spinal column is serious, and the severity of the disability depends on the level of the spinal cord where the damage occurred. Often, damage to the spinal cord is irreparable.   

Take the “Feet First” pledge to always enter the water feet first rather than head first. And, check the depth before you jump as even jumping in feet first can cause a devastating injury in shallow water or if a hidden obstacle is hit with impact.

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About The Author

Dr. Daniel McGuire

Dr. Dan McGuire is a spine and neck specialist and surgeon with more than 30 years of experience. He cares for people with spine health issues, from evaluation and education to various forms of treatment, including surgery, when necessary. Dr. McGuire completed his residency in orthopedic surgery ... read more