Scuba Diver Australasia + Ocean Planet - - Contents - By Kathryn Cur­zon Kathryn Cur­zon is a writer, pub­lic speaker, great white shark dive guide, and co-founder of the ma­rine con­ser­va­tion cause Friends for Sharks. In 2015, she com­pleted 87 talks in eight coun­tries dur­ing her World Tour for Sharks. She is th

Back pain is a com­mon oc­cur­rence these days with seden­tary life­styles, but it needn’t de­ter divers from en­joy­ing their time in the wa­ter. Divers can man­age chronic back pain whilst trav­el­ling and div­ing, plus take steps to min­imise the chance of back in­juries re­oc­cur­ring



Choos­ing the right dive gear is im­por­tant in min­imis­ing back pain, par­tic­u­larly lower back pain. Whilst most divers learn with a weight belt around the waist, and weights dis­trib­uted around the waist­line, there are other op­tions for those prone to back pain. Weights placed in buoy­ancy con­trol de­vice (BCD) pock­ets and a weight strapped to the tank can help to take weight off the lower back when div­ing. Po­si­tion­ing weights on a belt at the front of the waist­line, in­stead of to­wards the back, also helps to take pres­sure off the lower spine and can be more com­fort­able. It is im­por­tant to have a buddy check a diver’s body po­si­tion and trim when mak­ing changes to dive weight con­fig­u­ra­tions, to en­sure the diver is go­ing to be able to move with min­i­mal drag and isn’t arch­ing their back ex­ces­sively.


The right buoy­ancy con­trol de­vice is also im­por­tant and divers should try a va­ri­ety of styles and brands be­fore set­tling on one. Dif­fer­ent peo­ple have dif­fer­ent spinal lengths and shapes, plus dif­fer­ent up­per body sizes. BCDs vary to ac­com­mo­date these dif­fer­ences, with a range of sizes and po­si­tions avail­able. It is a good idea to also look at the pocket po­si­tions for weights and maybe even con­sider a diver wing in­stead of the tra­di­tional BCD de­sign.


Be­ing cold can eas­ily ag­gra­vate a sore back when shiv­er­ing and when mus­cles tense up. It is es­sen­tial to choose the right wet­suit, or dry­suit and ther­mal un­der­suit com­bi­na­tion, that will main­tain good body warmth even af­ter a full day of div­ing. The ad­di­tion of a ther­mal un­der­gar­ment un­der neo­prene, such as a ther­mal rash vest, can make a big dif­fer­ence to the body tem­per­a­ture with­out the need to pur­chase a thicker wet­suit. There are ex­cel­lent ther­mal un­der­suits avail­able for dry­suit div­ing and even heated vest op­tions for the cold-blooded diver.

If mo­bil­ity is an is­sue, an ex­po­sure-pro­tec­tion suit with a front-en­try or eas­ily-reach­able zips is help­ful. Con­sid­er­a­tion should be given to ease of en­try and exit from the suit and, if pur­chas­ing a semidry or dry­suit, whether the wrist and neck seals can be re­leased with min­i­mal tug­ging that could strain the back.

Mask and Fins

For those who strug­gle to bend or turn their necks, choose care­fully be­fore pur­chas­ing a mask and fins. Open-heel fins with spring fin straps al­low for easy re­moval with min­i­mal bend­ing re­quired. A wide field-of-view mask helps re­duce the need to twist or crane the neck dur­ing dives and al­lows the diver to fully en­joy the view.


Once a diver has the right gear set up for their needs, it’s time to get in the wa­ter and dis­cover ways to min­imise the risk of in­jury. Divers shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help – that alone is im­por­tant in proper back care. Divers can ask their dive buddy, or dive guide, to help carry their dive kit to the wa­ter or boat to help min­imise spinal com­pres­sion from the weight of dive gear. Con­sid­er­a­tion should be given to the best wa­ter en­try and exit tech­nique, prefer­ably al­ter­na­tives to gi­ant strides and back rolls that can load and strain the back. Sit­ting at the edge of a boat or jetty, be­fore putting on dive gear, can min­imise back pain and load. The same can also be said for putting dive kit on once in the wa­ter. When ex­it­ing the wa­ter, dive gear should be re­moved and passed up to a dive buddy or guide rather than ex­it­ing the wa­ter with full kit on the diver’s back.

Cor­rect body po­si­tion­ing and finning are im­por­tant to pre­vent back pain. Scis­sor kicks from the hips may be great for mo­men­tum but they can strain the back. A good al­ter­na­tive finning tech­nique is the frog kick, which can be eas­ily learnt and puts less strain on the spine. It also hap­pens to be a great finning tech­nique for min­imis­ing sand and silt dis­tur­bance at dive sites. Divers should con­sider a ses­sion with an in­struc­tor to learn dif­fer­ent finning tech­niques whilst check­ing for un­nat­u­ral back arch­ing or strain.


Once a diver is out of the wa­ter, post-dive warmth is key to keeping sensitive backs re­laxed and warm. Chang­ing into warm cloth­ing, in­clud­ing a woolly hat, will re­duce the like­li­hood of shiv­er­ing af­ter a dive. Wear­ing a warm hat be­tween dives is a great way to re­duce heat loss even when still wear­ing a wet­suit, though chang­ing into dry clothes is prefer­able. Warm drinks and high en­ergy snacks are also help­ful.

A sim­ple kit for re­liev­ing back pain can make a big dif­fer­ence when on a re­mote div­ing trip and un­able to ac­cess a phys­io­ther­a­pist. In­clude pain re­lief and anti-in­flam­ma­tory med­i­ca­tion, a ten­nis or cricket ball for self-mas­sage of the back, a hot wa­ter bot­tle for eas­ing mus­cle tension, a lum­bar sup­port brace, and a length of phys­io­ther­a­pist band for stretch­ing leg mus­cles with­out mo­bil­is­ing a painful spine. It is also worth find­ing the con­tact de­tails of a lo­cal phys­io­ther­a­pist and mas­sage ther­a­pist prior to any in­jury oc­cur­ring, if pos­si­ble.

Long-term care is im­por­tant to min­imise the im­pact of an ex­ist­ing spinal in­jury and to pre­vent fu­ture in­juries from oc­cur­ring. Yoga and pi­lates are pop­u­lar and ef­fec­tive for pre­vent­ing back in­juries by im­prov­ing flex­i­bil­ity, core strength, and pos­ture. Back prob­lems are some­times due to tight mus­cles and the com­bi­na­tion of stretch­ing and core strength are help­ful for spinal re­lax­ation and pro­tec­tion. Swim­ming can be help­ful for eas­ing back pain, though it can ag­gra­vate cer­tain back prob­lems due to spinal arch­ing in dif­fer­ent swim­ming po­si­tions. Divers with back in­juries should seek med­i­cal ad­vice prior to un­der­tak­ing new sports, or work with a sports coach, and con­sider see­ing a phys­io­ther­a­pist for a per­son­alised yoga and pi­lates rou­tine. A set of stretches and core­strength­en­ing ex­er­cises can eas­ily be done at home or whilst trav­el­ling.

Fi­nally, back stiff­ness and pain can be due to poorly hy­drated or in­jured spinal discs. Be sure to keep hy­drated ev­ery day to al­low spinal discs to re­hy­drate and sup­port the back for years to come.

ABOVE Choos­ing the right gear is es­sen­tial when deal­ing with a sore back on a dive

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