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Spinal Cord Injuries and Diving Accidents


During the hot summer months, there is one devastating scenario emergency doctors hate to see:  diving-related spinal cord injuries.  Underestimating water depths and unfamiliarity with a body of water can lead to tragic outcomes.  Combine that with a few alcoholic beverages and the carefree attitude that warm weather brings – and these are the leading causes of spinal cord injuries.

Splashing into the water to cool off may seem like a good idea.  But the risk of fracturing your head, neck or spine makes diving an extremely dangerous activity, especially if you do not have the proper training.

According to the Red Cross, 95% of diving-related injuries occur in water 1.5 metres deep or less.  The agency also says many of these injuries occur in unsupervised settings with no posted warning signs.  Interestingly enough, more than 40% of spinal cord injuries occur in backyard pools.  These injuries are rare, however, in supervised waters that are at least 2.7 metres deep.

Males between the ages of 17 to 22 make up the majority of diving accident victims.  These male victims usually have no formal diving training.  Meanwhile, it is not surprising that more than half of diving injuries and deaths involve alcohol and/or drug use.  Many of these accidents leave the diver completely paralyzed from the neck down.

How can we prevent diving accidents? 

The Canadian Red Cross recommends all swimmers follow a checklist before taking a plunge.  The agency advises the following:

  • Enter unfamiliar waters feet first
  • Assess area to ensure there are no rocks or sharp objects below
  • Water level should measure at least twice the height of the diver
  • Even if all conditions are met, diving head-first is never recommended

Most in-ground pools (even those equipped with a diving board) are considered unsafe for diving – especially for adults.  The deep end is often too short, leaving the diver at risk of striking their head on the slope of the pool leading towards the shallow end.

What is a spinal cord injury? 

The spinal cord is a complex structure that delivers sensory information from the body and internal organs to the brain.  It also carries messages from the brain to various parts of the body.  A spinal cord injury results in the loss of function or sensation in the body below the level of the injury.  As a general rule, the higher the location of the injury on the spinal cord, the greater the degree of paralysis.

There are four main types of spinal cord injuries:


  • Partial or total loss of movement/sensation in all four extremities
  • Loss of bladder and bowel functions


  • Partial or total loss of movement/sensation in the legs and part (if not all) of the body
  • Loss of bladder and bowel functions

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)

  • Minimum to no motor function or sensation below the area of injury
  • Severity of SCI injuries will vary
  • Person with an incomplete SCI may be able to move one side of the body more than the other

Click here to read how a diving accident changed one Ontario man’s life:

How can a personal injury lawyer help? 

Diving-related spinal cord injuries are life-altering.  Survivors often require a high level of care for the remainder of their lives, as well as income support.  Depending on the severity, proper rehabilitation can drastically improve one’s quality of life.

Speak to a personal injury lawyer to help you and your family through this ordeal.  Personal injury lawyers can maximize recovery by ensuring the injured person receives the treatment and assistance that they deserve.

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