Spinal injuries from diving increasing

Spinal cord injuries from diving and other water-related accidents doubled between 1995-96 and 1996-97, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Flinders University of South Australia.

The report, Spinal Cord Injury, Australia 1996-97, presents national statistics on new cases of spinal cord injury from traumatic causes.

Of the 25 diving and water accidents resulting in spinal cord injury, 40% were in the surf, 20% in swimming pools and 40% in other water-related situations.

Report spokesperson Dr Raymond Cripps, from the AIHW's National Injury Surveillance Unit at Flinders University, said it was difficult to know what to make of the apparent increase in water-related spinal cord injury over such a short period.

'We really need better information over a longer period to do a proper analysis of this issue. There are a few gaps in the information we have for earlier years, but we are hopeful of fixing this with the help of the Directors of Australia's six specialist spinal units.

'Over the recent summer there have been several anecdotal reports in the media of an increase in water-related accidents-I suspect that we may well see another rise in these figures in 1997-98.'

Dr Cripps said that diving and water-related accidents comprised 11% of spinal cord injury accidents compared with 27% for motor vehicles, 23% from high falls, 11% from low falls (less than 1 metre), and 11% for unprotected road users (predominantly motor cyclists).

'What is of potential concern is that water-related accidents resulting in spinal injuries are highly prevalent in people in the 15-24 year age group. For this group they are second only to transport accidents as the cause of spinal cord injury.'

'Another worry is that the spinal injuries from diving are generally very severe. The number of cases of complete tetraplegia from diving was the same as the number for motor vehicle occupants.' (Tetraplegia is loss of function in the arms, legs, trunk and pelvic organs).

Other findings in the report include:

  • 45% of all spinal cord injury cases resulted in tetraplegia
  • The average length of stay in hospital for spinal cord injury was 4 months.
  • Males accounted for 80% of spinal injury cases.

17 June 1998


Further information: Dr Raymond Cripps, ph. 08 8374 0970 or 08 8322 2035 (ah).
General media inquiries: Nigel Harding, ph. 02 6244 1025.
For media copies of the report: Lena Searle, ph. 02 6244 1032.