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Dive Safely -- Or Risk Spinal Cord Damage

Go feet first in shallow or unfamiliar waters, experts say

SATURDAY, May 29 (HealthDay News) -- About 6,000 Americans under the age of 14 are hospitalized each year because of a diving injury, and 20 percent of diving accidents result in a severe spinal cord injury, researchers say.

To encourage diver safety, University of Michigan (U-M) researchers urge bathers to use caution near any body of water and to jump feet first in shallow water or if the depth is unknown.

"Our neurosurgery team here at U-M knows how heartbreaking spinal cord injuries can be," Karin Muraszko, chair of the department of neurosurgery and chief of pediatric neurosurgery, said in a news release. "We can provide these patients with top-notch, state-of-the-art care, but we'd much rather they are not hurt to begin with. We can't put the spinal cord back together. So the best thing we can do is prevent these injuries."

You don't have to hit bottom to get injured, the team pointed out. "The surface tension on the water can be enough to injure the spinal cord," cautioned Dr. Shawn Hervey-Jumper, a neurosurgery resident, in the same news release.

The spinal cord transmits signals from the brain to a muscle. When the spinal cord gets injured, the brain's signal is blocked, Hervey-Jumper explained.

To drive home the message, the department of neurosurgery has launched a series of public service announcements and videos that will air at movie theaters in Michigan this summer.

"Just think if you could never get out of a seat, think if you woke up in the morning and couldn't get yourself out of bed," Josh Weber, a 32-year-old Michigan resident injured in a diving accident, says in one video. "You really need to think about your actions because your life can change in a split-second. It kind of opens up your eyes and you understand that life is fragile."

And, Weber adds, "Don't think it couldn't happen to you. It could happen to anyone."

More information

For more on life with a spinal cord injury, visit the American Occupational Therapy Association.

-- Alan Mozes

SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, May 26, 2010

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