Like any other sport, water sports can cause joint pain, concussions, fractures and other injuries. Learn how you can prevent injury and still have fun.

Whether you’re water skiing, wakeboarding, surfing, paragliding, kite surfing or jet skiing, water sports can be a blast. But it’s important to know the risks involved in each activity, the common injuries and how to prevent them.

Common injuries from water sports

Water skiing, wakeboarding and inner tubing all involve hydroplaning behind a boat while pulled by a cable. A study compared injuries from these three water sports and identified that wakeboarding- and tubing-related injuries most often affect the head and neck, while water-skiing injuries cause strain or sprain to the knees, shoulders and ankles. High-speed sports such as jet skiing, surfing and kite boarding have potential for impact with a board and can cause concussions and fractures. “Regardless of the water sport you are participating in, it is important to know the risks and have prevention plans in place,” said Alexander E. Weber, MD, assistant professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at the USC Department of Orthopaedic Surgery of Keck Medicine of USC.

Additionally, research has demonstrated that injuries are not necessarily related to inexperience. “Studies have shown that musculoskeletal injuries from water sports don’t just occur in our novice participants, we see beginners and professional competitors sustain similar injuries,” said Dr. Weber. “Fortunately we have an experienced team at the USC Sports Medicine Center, and we are equipped with state-of-the-art nonoperative and operative treatments for all water sport injuries across the full spectrum of athletic levels.”

Steps to prevent common water sports injuries

Some injuries are preventable. Here are a few precautions you can take:

Stay Hyrated – The musculoskeletal system, specifically your muscles, work best when they are hydrated. Dehydration leads to muscle cramping and can lead to muscle strains or tears. Dr. Weber noted, “a lot of injury prevention can be done before you get in the water. For more vigorous physical activity a combination of hydration with water and electrolyte beverages is best.”

Stretch – Treat water sports like any other sport and warm up before you take the plunge. Stretching increases your range of motion and prevents injury and muscle strains. “Adequate warm-up has been shown to lower injury risk for land sports and water sports,” said Dr. Weber.

Water Safety – Wear a life jacket when you are on or in the water. Even the best swimmers can become fatigued and get into trouble. Most people know that a life jacket is required when riding in a boat or on a jet ski, but the U.S Coast Guard has determined that stand up paddle boards also are vessels, meaning if they are operated outside of a swimming or surfing area, they now require life jackets.

Know your limits – Like all sports, water skiing, wakeboarding, kite boarding and surfing all take skill, stamina and practice. Take it slow and step up the intensity as you are ready.

Wear a helmet – Depending on the sport, you’ll want to wear a helmet to avoid head injury. A head injury on the water is no less serious than one on land. Dr. Weber echoed the importance of wearing a helmet. “If the thought of wearing a helmet even crosses your mind, chances are you should put one one. It is always better to be safe and protect yourself against head injuries and concussions.”

Take a break – If you have an injury or a muscle strain, back off the intensity so that your injury has time to heal.

If you have a sports-related injury, the orthopaedic surgeons at Keck Medicine of USC can develop a treatment plan that is right for you. We treat everyone from weekend warriors to professional athletes.

If you are in the Los Angeles area and looking for exceptional care from some of the top orthopaedic surgeons in the world, schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting http://www.ortho.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/.

By Heidi Tyline King