Summer Safety Tip #4: Avoiding Head and Neck Injuries Around Pool and Surf


Now that the Fourth of July weekend is upon us, many families will be spending every spare minute around the pool or at the beach. Most of us have fond memories of those “Hey, watch me dive” days from our childhood. I remember one summer when my cousin slipped while running around the edge of the pool and split his lip on the concrete… and another year when my teenage friend nearly drowned after body surfing in the dark.

In hindsight, it is obvious that we were all pretty lucky that our injuries weren’t worse than that. Those memories just as easily could have been tragic. Head and neck injuries can result in brain injury, paralysis, coma, or death.

Today’s summer advice is about water safety, so that our kids have fond summer memories, too.

Ocean Play

According to Hoag Hospital’s Project Wipeout, most injuries in the ocean are caused by the powerful surge and pull of waves. Serious injuries can occur in a number of ways:

When your body tumbles in the waves, gets thrown by the waves to the ocean floor or when your head spears into the sand; your head can be forced down onto your shoulders, pushed forward into your chest or pushed backward further than it can naturally extend. And once spinal cord damage is sustained, little can be done to medically repair it. The result is severe pain, paralysis, the inability to breathe on your own or even death.” (Project Wipeout)

  • Don’t jump off piers or jetties.
  • Don’t enter the ocean alone.
  • When body-boarding, hold the board so it extends past your head–if  a board is held closer, a wave can flip the board backward toward the head and neck.
  • Make sure you know where sandbars are before riding surf.
  • Don’t enter the ocean drunk.

Swimming Pool Play

According to, supervision at the pool is the number-one safety rule:

“One-on-one adult supervision is recommended for children. If supervising a child, you are too far away if you are unable to reach the child with an outstretched arm. Young children under 7 and non-swimmers should wear a PFD, personal flotation device, when in water at or above chest height. Flotation toys are not intended to prevent drowning. Implement the buddy system for everyone. Good swimmers and adults alike should never swim alone.” (


  • Don’t dive in less than 9 feet of water. A good rule of thumb is if there is no diving board, diving is not allowed. That means no diving into the shallow end of a pool, or into an above-ground pool.
  • If you can’t see the bottom, don’t dive. You never know when there might be submerged items in your dive path.
  • Don’t dive into unfamiliar waters…even if others are diving.
  • Get training before doing back dives or fancy dives, or diving from diving blocks.
  • Don’t try to dive through or over objects.
  • Never dive from pool structures, such as slides or ladders… or from retaining walls, rooftops, balconies, or fences.
  • Don’t dive drunk or under the influence of drugs.
  • Don’t dive alone.


  • Don’t let anyone slide head-first…even adults.
  • One slider on the slide at a time.
  • Slide only if the water in the landing area is free of objects or other people.
  • The landing area in front of a slide should have a minimum depth of 5 feet.

To read our other Summer Safety Tips…

Tip #1: Heat Illness.

Tip #2: Summer Auto Wrecks.

Tip #3: Medications that Don’t Mix with Heat.


Lifesaving Resources, Inc. Spinal Injuries in the Aquatic Environment; Part 1: Prevention. (Gerald M. Dworkin, reprinted from 1987 Parks & Recreation. (

Hoag Hospital’s Project Wipeout. A nonprofit hospital’s program to save lives and prevent injuries at the beach. (

Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation’s Summer Safety Checklist. (

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