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Surfer’s Myelopathy

Thompson, Todd P., MD; Pearce, James, MD; Chang, Gonzolo; Madamba, Joseph

doi: 10.1097/01.BRS.0000134689.84162.E7
Case Reports

Study Design. The authors reviewed a series of nontraumatic spinal cord injuries associated with surfing lessons.

Objectives. To characterize a unique syndrome of paraplegia/paraparesis to improve clinical recognition, treatment, and prevention.

Summary of Background Data. Surfer’s myelopathy is a previously unreported nontraumatic spinal cord injury that affects inexperienced surfers. Nine patients with paraparesis/paraplegia were evaluated and treated after nontraumatic surfing events.

Methods. An office-based registry tracked patients with surfer’s myelopathy between July 2001 and December 2002. A retrospective review of hospital records searched for additional patients. Nine cases of surfer’s myelopathy are retrospectively analyzed to characterize the incidence, risk factors, and outcome. The literature related to surfing injuries is reviewed.

Results. Nine patients were detected with surfer’s myelopathy between June 1998 and January 2003. The average age was 25 years. Most patients presented with back pain, paraparesis, and urinary retention. Other presenting symptoms included paraplegia, hypesthesia/hypalgesia, and hyperesthesia. At the time of discharge, three patients had a complete recovery and four patients had mild weakness without sensory deficits. Three in this group had residual urinary retention. One patient remained paraplegic. All patients had abnormal signal change in the lower thoracic spinal cord by magnetic resonance imaging.

Conclusion. Surfer’s myelopathy is a nontraumatic paraparesis/paraplegia that affects first-time surfers. Although most patients have a complete or near-complete recovery, complete paraplegia has occurred.

Surfer’s myelopathy is a previously unreported nontraumatic paraparesis/paraplegia that affects first-time surfers. Patients typically present with back pain, paraparesis, urinary retention, and abnormal magnetic resonance image signal change in the lower thoracic spinal cord. Although the typical course yields near-complete or complete recovery, paraplegia has occurred.

From the Departments of Neurosurgery and Neurology, Straub Clinic & Hospital, Honolulu, Hawaii.

Acknowledgment date: October 9, 2003. First revision date: November 14, 2003. Acceptance date: November 17, 2003.

The manuscript submitted does not contain information about medical device(s)/drug(s).

No funds were received in support of this work. No benefits in any form have been or will be received from a commercial party related directly or indirectly to the subject of this manuscript.

Address correspondence to Todd Thompson, MD, Peachtree Neurosurgery, 993F Johnson Ferry Road, Suite 100, Atlanta, GA 30342; E-mail:

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.