Surfing and Knee Injuries

Surfing is a relatively safe sport. Besides some skin cancer and shark attack risks and the occasional spinal injury from surfing gnarled up shore pound, the odds are you will make it back from the next session pretty well unscathed. However, the aches and pains that can come from the obsessively constant beating, twisting, and pounding on your bones are not unique to contact sports like football. Surfing, especially the modern progressive incarnation that depends almost exclusively aerials, tail slides, and radical rail torques, is also fertile ground for injuries to the ankle, back, and knee.

Knee injuries are very common in modern surfing, and have to potential not just make surfing painful and difficult but even sideline a surfer for good. Therefore, let’s examine the occurrence of knee issues in surfing and see how you can avoid any possible problems.

How do I know if my knee is really hurt?
Most doctors will categorize knee injuries based on 3 levels from mild to moderate to severe.

      Mild knee injuries usually result from a small tear of the muscles or ligaments around the knee. Symptoms include some tenderness when touching the knee area but with no swelling apparent. With a few weeks rest or very mild activity, you can restore full function. Remember, surfing hard on a hurt knee will not only lengthen the time for recovery but it will also lessen the joy of each session, so logic and math would say to commit to taking it easy for a few weeks so you can get back to full surf mode as quickly as possible without setbacks.

     A moderate knee injury is marked by pain and tenderness in the knee with some swelling. Swelling is the key here plus more intense pain, even when not touching the knee. This level of injury can take some 6 to 8 weeks to heal.

A severe knee injury results in your knee feeling wobbly, flimsy, or generally unstable and ready to give out when you put pressure on it. This one can take up to 12 weeks to heal or could require surgery. Not cool.

What should I do if I hurt my knee while surfing?
     Doctors agree that it’s best to get off your knee immediately if the injury is moderate to severe and then (regardless of the severity) practice PRICE while you are waiting to see a professional. Price: protect, rest, ice, compression, and elevate. Pretty basic stuff, really.

How can I avoid a knee injury?
     There is no way to totally avoid a knee injury, especially in surfing, since you are riding an unstable surface while leaning, weighting, unweighting, and torqueing your body with and against the movement of the wave. Those conditions beg for some kind of muscle tear at some point.

     But you can strengthen your body to better protect itself against knee injuries. It takes a whole body approach since your limbs and muscles do not work in isolation, they depend of each other for support. I have found one approach to be the best. It’s a combination of the following activities:
  1. Surf as much as possible
  2. Ride a bike whenever you can
  3. Strength train regularly (preferably 3 times a week)
  4. Practice yoga regularly
     That’s it. These activities will all combine to produce a whole body fitness. Your surfing will improve and your possibility of injuries will decrease dramatically. Notice that I do not include any real hard numbers in the amount of your activity. That’s because surfing is hard to schedule, so if the surf is bombing, always default to the beach. If you can ride a bike to the beach, heck yeah! Learn your yoga stretches and put them to task on the sand before you head out. That’s a bonus.

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