Beach Safety – Head & Spinal Injury

Most beach-related neck and spinal cord injuries are caused by the awesome strength of the ocean’s waves or by diving head first forcing a person’s neck and spine into harmful, unnatural positions or hitting the bottom. Spinal injuries can have lifelong consequences for the victim and family and once spinal cord damage is sustained, little can be done to medically repair it. The good news is that most spinal injuries are preventable.

Photo: Los Angeles County Lifeguards


To help ensure you have a good day at the beach, we recommend the following tips, as well as our many other safety tips. It’s also helpful to understand the spine and its importance to the body.

  • Swim near a lifeguard.
  • Check with lifeguards on current conditions before swimming.
  • STOP, watch, and walk into the water.
  • DON’T dive headfirst into any unknown water.
  • DON’T dive toward the bottom into oncoming waves.
  • DON’T stand with your back to the waves.
  • DON’T jump or dive from a cliff, pier, jetty or bridge.
  • Avoid bodysurfing, bodyboarding or surfing straight “over the falls.” Ride the shoulder.
  • In a “wipeout,” land as flat as possible with your hands out in front of you.
  • While bodysurfing, keep an arm out in front of you to protect your head and neck.
  • When in doubt, DON’T DIVE, play it safe!


Signs of a spinal injury can include things other than paralysis, but they require immediate attention. They include:

  • Bruises, scrapes or cuts to the head or face
  • Pain or tenderness in the neck or back
  • Partial or complete paralysis, difficulty breathing
  • Weakness in the arms and/or legs
  • Numbness and tingling in the arms and legs

If Someone is Injured

  • Summon lifeguards or dial 9-1-1.
  • Advise the injured person to “Hold still. Don’t move anything!” Especially their head and neck.
  • If they are standing or sitting, help them to try to maintain that position without moving their head or neck until help arrives.
  • If they are in the water, do the best you can with available help to keep the person still while maintaining an open airway.
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