Nearly 203,600 swimming-related injuries were treated in emergency rooms, doctors' offices, and clinics in 2009 according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons offers the following tips to prevent swimming injuries.
- Learn how to swim and do not swim alone. Swim in supervised areas where lifeguards are present. Inexperienced swimmers should wear lifejackets in the water.
- Do not attempt to swim if you are too tired, too cold, or overheated.
- When swimming in open water, never run and enter waves headfirst. Make sure the water is free of undercurrents and other hazards.
- Do not swim in a lake or river after a storm if the water seems to be rising or if there is flooding because currents may become strong. The clarity and depth of the water may have changed, and new hazards may be present.
- Check weather reports before going swimming to avoid being in the water during storms, fog, or high winds. Because water conducts electricity, being in the water during an electrical storm is dangerous.
- Remember that alcohol and water don't mix. Alcohol affects not only judgment, but it slows movement and impairs vision. It can reduce swimming skills and make it harder to stay warm.
- Be knowledgeable about first aid and be able to administer it for minor injuries, such as facial cuts, bruises, or minor tendonitis, strains, or sprains.
- Prevent "swimmer's ear" by drying the ear canal with a cotton tip after swimming.
- Be prepared for emergency situations and have a plan to reach medical personnel to treat injuries such as concussions, dislocations, bruises, wrist or finger sprains, and fractures.
- Do not dive in shallow water.
- Avoid diving into murky water. You should be able to see the bottom of a pool at the deepest point.
- Check the shape of the full diving area to make sure it is deep enough.
- Dive only off the end of a diving board. Do not run on the board, try to dive far out, or bounce more than once. Swim away from the board immediately after the dive, to allow room for the next diver. Make sure there is only one person on the board at a time.
- Always take time to warm up and stretch. Research studies have shown that cold muscles are more prone to injury. Warm up with jumping jacks, stationary cycling or running or walking in place for 3 to 5 minutes. Then slowly and gently stretch, holding each stretch for 30 seconds.
- The most common swimming injury is shoulder pain due to repetitive motion. The best way to prevent this is with a general exercise program to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder and upper back.
- Do not swim vigorously if you have a fever, upper respiratory infection, or ear infection.
- Educate guests about the pool, such as depth markings, lighting, diving board location, surface, and time for use.
- Set enforceable hours for pool use and secure it with fencing to keep people out during inappropriate hours.
- Do not allow guests to swim alone or to consume alcohol or drugs while swimming.
- When the pool is in use, always have someone present who is trained in water safety and life-saving techniques.
Source: American Red Cross; U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission 2009 NEISS data and estimates, based on injuries treated in hospitals, doctors' offices, ambulatory care facilities, clinics and hospital emergency rooms; American Spinal Injury Association.
Database: CPSC's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS, 2007-2009)