Tips for Preventing Common Water Sports Injuries

Tips for Preventing Common Water Sports Injuries

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 waterskiing, 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

Waterskiing, wakeboarding and inner tubing all involve hydroplaning behind a boat while riding equipment that’s 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 waterskiing injuries cause strain or sprain to the knees, shoulders and ankles. High-speed sports such as jet skiing, surfing and kiteboarding have potential for impact with a board and can cause concussions and fractures. “Regardless of the water sport you are participating in, it’s important to know the risks and have prevention plans in place,” says Alexander E. Weber, MD, assistant professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at the Keck School of Medicine and a specialist in the field of orthopaedic surgery and sports medicine at 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,” explains Weber. “Fortunately we have an experienced team at the USC Epstein Family Center for Sports Medicine, 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.”

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Steps to prevent common water sports injuries

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

Stay hydrated: 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.  “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,” advises Weber.

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 risk of injury for land sports and water sports,” says Weber.

Water safety: Wear a life jacket when you’re 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 US Coast Guard has determined that stand up paddle boards also are vessels, meaning if they’re operated outside of a swimming or surfing area, they now require life jackets.

Know your limits: Like all sports, waterskiing, wakeboarding, kite boarding and surfing all take skill, stamina and practice. Take it slow and increase the intensity at a steady pace when you’re 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. “If the thought of wearing a helmet even crosses your mind, chances are you should put one on. It’s always better to be safe and protect yourself against head injuries and concussions,” advises Weber.

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

by Heidi Tyline King

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’re 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