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Diving Off Diving Boards Is Dangerous For Kids

Recreational swimming and diving is the third most common physical activity in the country after walking and camping with an estimated 360 million visits to recreational water venues per year.  The sport of diving, both recreational and competitive, continues to increase in popularity (300+ clubs and 20,000+ members age 18 years and under registered with USA Diving). Such recent growth, along with the increasing complexity and difficulty of dives being performed in competition (the number of competitive dives officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee has jumped from 34 in 1920 to 227 today), has resulted in greater potential for diving-related injuries.

It doesn't take an understanding of the laws of physics to know that once you are airborne, you can't completely control where you land. That is what makes diving into a pool (or a pond, or a lake) so thrilling for kids and, of course, so dangerous.  Yet attention has mostly focused on catastrophic spinal cord injuries among older teenagers and young adults from recreational diving into water of an unknown depth or overuse injuries suffered by competitive divers from repetitive training.  Up until now, we haven't had safety data to show just how risky diving (both recreational and competitive) is for younger kids engaged in recreational diving.

Now we do. 

Study illustrates danger

Researchers at Ohio State University and the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio analyzed diving-related injury data for children and adolescents seen in hospital emergency rooms over the 17 year period from 1990 through 2006.  Their findings, reported in the August 2008 issue of the journal Pediatrics, show that diving is much more dangerous than we realized, although not in the way we pictured.

Among the report's key findings:

  • As expected, the vast majority of injuries occur during the summer months;

  • In contrast to earlier reports asserting that diving injuries occur mostly among older teenagers and young adults, two-thirds of diving-related injuries occur among children younger than 15;

  • Children aged 10 to 14 suffered more diving injuries than any other group, accounting for more than one-third (36.3%) of the total;

  • 90% of diving-related injuries occurred in swimming pools;

  • Children four years or less were more likely to suffer injuries to the face, while children aged 10 to 19 had higher odds of injuries to the extremities;

  • The odds of a laceration were higher for children less than 10 years old while the children aged 10 to 19 had increased odds of fractures;

  • Collisions with diving boards accounted for nearly half (44%) of all injuries, even among 15- to 19-year olds, who were at increased risk of sustaining an underwater injury from contact with the bottom of the pool.

  • The odds of a collision with a diving board or platform were dramatically increased if the diver was attempting a flip, handstand, or backward dive.

  • Diving from a height of more than 3 feet dramatically increased the odds of injury solely as a result of contact with the water.

Safety data, such as contained in the study, is really a sport's report card for how we are doing with our training and educational programs on all levels, from the recreational to the most competitive. Retrospective data gives us a bird's eye view into where we are with a sport so we can draw some conclusions and facilitate changes in rules, teaching, safety, and equipment.

The common myth about diving has always been that swimming pools are the safest place for kids to dive, especially if they are involved in a program and that diving or jumping into lakes, streams, rivers, oceans and unsupervised areas aren't as safe. The Ohio State report just goes to show that, when you look at the actual injury data for a sport, the myth may not match reality at all. When it comes to diving, swimming pools, home and community are not as safe as we all thought.