If you’ve ever watched the Olympics, you may think, as I did, that the minimal splash signifies the body cutting through the water like a knife through butter. While a professional slices the H20 better than my belly-flop, it turns out there are pretty incredible velocities and impact forces even with a 10.0 dive.
Competitive divers have an increased risk of injuring their neck and shoulders. On overage, platform divers train about 40 hours per week, averaging 50 to 100 dives per day. At 10 meter platforms, the diver hits the water at about 35-37 mph. After submerging, the velocity decreases over 50% in a fraction of a second.
One study has indicated that after age 13, there’s a 45% chance of a diver having a spine injury within a year.
Laura Wilkinson won gold medal at platform in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, taking home the first US women’s gold since 1964. She’s now 42 years old and came out of retirement in 2017 to prepare for the upcoming Tokyo games in July. But her championship career hasn’t been seamless.
In 2018, she noticed right arm weakness. She was found to have degenerated discs in her neck and underwent a two-level anterior cervical discectomy and fusion in December 2021. She started posting her recovery on YouTube and discusses many of the common rehabilitation components following an ACDF surgery.
While everyone should remember she’s an Olympic athlete, albeit not too far removed from the typical weekend warrior in their 40’s, her body’s resilience is astonishing and above average. However even this superstar notes the posterior neck soreness, dysphagia, and intermittent recurrent symptoms that local Coloradans should expect during their recovery. While we cheer her on this summer, any patient planning an ACDF should check out some of her videos to help guide their expectations from surgery.