Summertime Safety Tips for Aquatic Sports and Orthopedic Injury Prevention

Published June 30, 2023

Summer is here, and it’s time to cool off and have fun in the water! Maryland, Northern Virginia, and D.C. residents have their choice of rivers, lakes, beaches, and the Bay. Whether swimming, boating, water skiing, or simply playing in the water, it's crucial to prioritize safety to ensure a summer filled with joy and free from orthopedic injuries. In this article, we'll dive into some essential tips and precautions to help you stay safe and protect your spine, joints, and muscles during aquatic adventures. So, grab your sunscreen, and let's make a splash!


Before we get into tips to prevent orthopedic injuries, let’s start with the basics of water safety:

  • Learn to Swim and Buddy Up: First, make sure you or your loved ones know how to swim. It's a valuable life skill and crucial for water safety. If possible, always swim with a buddy. Having someone by your side adds an extra layer of security and ensures that help is nearby if needed.
  • Embrace Life Jackets: Whether you're boating or engaging in any water sports, wearing a life jacket is a must. Life jackets save lives, regardless of your swimming abilities. Ensure you have a properly fitted and Coast Guard-approved personal floatation device (PFD) to keep you afloat and protected.
  • Check the Weather Forecast: Before setting sail on a boating adventure, check the weather forecast. Stormy or turbulent conditions can be dangerous and increase the risk of accidents. It's better to reschedule your plans than to put yourself in harm's way.
  • Mind the Water Depth: Whether you're diving, jumping, or playing in the water, always be aware of the water depth. Avoid shallow areas, as diving into them can lead to severe spinal injuries. Stick to designated diving spots or areas with sufficient depth for safe play.
  • Stay Hydrated and Protected: Remember to stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun. Spending time in the water can be dehydrating, so drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated. Additionally, apply a waterproof sunscreen generously to all exposed areas of your skin to shield yourself from harmful UV rays.

To learn more, check out the CDC’s water safety guide. Now that we have the basics covered let’s move on to some specifics about aquatic activities.

What are common orthopedic injuries that happen to people participating in aquatic sports and boating?

When participating in aquatic sports and boating activities, there are several common orthopedic injuries that individuals may encounter. While it's important to note that these injuries can vary in severity, here are a few commonly seen orthopedic injuries:

Sprains and Strains

Water sports such as water skiing, wakeboarding, and windsurfing often involve repetitive movements and sudden changes in direction, which can lead to sprains or strains in the joints and muscles. Ankles, wrists, shoulders, and knees are particularly susceptible to these types of injuries. 


Impact with the water, collisions, or falls can result in fractures, especially in the extremities. Broken bones in the arms, legs, wrists, or ankles can occur during activities like diving, water skiing, or even while tubing. The surface tension of water is the reason why it hurts when you fall and hit the water. Typically, water skiing and wakeboarding require a speed of around 20mph. For tubing, the speed should be slower. 


Forceful movements, twists, or falls can cause joint dislocations. Shoulder dislocations, and even rotator cuff tears, are more common due to the overhead movements associated with various water sports and activities. Most people suggest keeping your arms straight and knees bent while water skiing and wakeboarding. If you feel pain in your joints, then take a break!

Contusions and Bruises

Accidental contact with another person, an object, or surfaces in the water can lead to contusions and bruises. These injuries are generally minor but can cause discomfort and swelling. Many people recommend wearing a helmet while doing board sports to prevent any severe head injuries.

Spine Injuries

Diving into shallow water or colliding with submerged objects poses a significant risk of spine and spinal cord injuries. Such injuries can have severe and long-term consequences, including paralysis or loss of sensation. The best way to enter the water is ALWAYS feet first. 

Cuts and Lacerations

Sharp objects in the water or contact with boat propellers can result in cuts and lacerations. These injuries may require medical attention and stitches to promote proper healing. 

Tendon and Ligament Tears and Ruptures

All of the board sports put considerable strain on your tendons and ligaments. ACL, MCL, and Achilles injuries can occur when too much stress is put on your knees and ankles.

Overuse Injuries

Engaging in repetitive motions, such as paddling and swimming, can cause overuse injuries like tendonitis or bursitis. These conditions often develop gradually due to excessive strain on the joints and soft tissues.

Tips for preventing orthopedic injuries while having fun on the water:

It might be tempting to jump right into your favorite aquatic activities at the beginning of summer, but it’s best to prepare your body to prevent injury. Here are a few tips:

  • Strengthen your core muscles. Strong core muscles help to stabilize your spine and prevent back injuries.
  • Stretch regularly. Stretching helps to improve your flexibility and range of motion, which can help to prevent injuries.
  • Warm up before exercising. Warming up helps to prepare your body for exercise and can help to prevent injuries.
  • Cool down after exercising. Cooling down helps your body to recover from exercise and can help to prevent injuries.
  • Listen to your body. If you're feeling pain, stop exercising and rest. Pushing yourself too hard can increase your risk of injury.
  • When boating, remember the “three points of contact” rule.
    Boats have wet, slippery surfaces. A slip and fall on a boat can lead to all types of injuries, so you should always try to have three points of contact with the boat. For example, you should have both feet solidly on the deck and hold on with at least one hand to a rail. Or, if you’re moving around on the boat, hold on with both hands to a rail and take one step at a time.

By following these tips, you can enjoy your summer water sports and aquatic activities while minimizing the risk of injuries. Always prioritize safety, adhere to guidelines, and never hesitate to seek medical assistance if you sustain an injury. So, make a splash, have a fantastic time, and keep your spine, joints, and muscles safe throughout the sunny season!

Learn more about fun water activities in Maryland, Northern Virginia, and Washington, D.C.