Atraumatic Spinal Cord Injury in the Novice Surfer: A Comprehensive Review and Update

Hawaii J Med Public Health. 2017 Feb;76(2):43-47.


Novice surfers are at risk for a rare but potentially devastating form of atraumatic myelopathy. There are 16 published studies on this condition, including 66 cases. The most common suggested mechanism of injury is static hyperextension. However, active mechanisms, in contrast to static, have also been proposed and may be contributory. First time surfers, defined as those who have never been on a surfboard prior to the day of injury, are at particular risk. These individuals make up 89.5%-100% of the reported novice surfers found in the various reports. Multiple neurologic deficits occur and often include paraparesis, paraplegia, urinary retention, and hyperesthesia. While these deficits resolve in some cases, there are reports of multiple instances of permanent injury. Increased awareness of this condition is arguably the most effective preventative measure, as it may lead to avoidance of the predisposing postures. It may also lead to earlier diagnosis in the acute setting, which will become relevant as treatment modalities continue to be refined.

Keywords: Atraumatic; Hawai‘i; Myelopathy; Paraplegia; Surfing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Hawaii
  • Humans
  • Paraplegia / epidemiology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / epidemiology*