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Title: The epidemiology of musculoskeletal injuries in competitive lifesavers in KwaZulu-Natal
Authors: Billson, Carmel Beth 
Keywords: Lifesaving;Musculoskeletal;Pain;Epidemiology;Prevalence
Issue Date: 30-Nov-2020
Lifesaving is a multidimensional sport which can lead to injury and a high
likelihood of overuse-related injuries. The environment within which lifesaving occurs is unique,
with the soft beach sand and unpredictable nature of the ocean. It is difficult to assess the
effects that injuries may have on the training and competitive performance of lifesavers as the
incidence and severity of these injuries have not previously been studied in South Africa. Thus,
this study investigated the epidemiology of lifesaving induced musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries
in competitive lifesavers in KwaZulu-Natal.
Lifesavers are under-investigated, yet the growth and development of the sport requires that
athletes are assessed for injury. This study could aid in educating federations, coaches and
athletes regarding MSK injuries sustained by lifesavers, thereby assisting athletes to be more
competitive at national and international competition levels.
Method: A quantitative, descriptive, cross-sectional epidemiological survey was used to collect
data from 100 competitive lifesavers in KwaZulu-Natal. The questionnaire was pre-validated
and hand delivered to the lifesaving clubs that agreed to participate, where the lifesavers selfselected to participate. Informed consent was obtained. The survey contained questions related
to demographics, activity participation, psychosocial factors and the occurrence of lifesaving
related musculoskeletal pain.
Results: The respondents were male (65%, n=65) and had a mean age of 28.6 years (±SD 14,
range 16-73). The lifetime prevalence of MSK injury from lifesaving was 72% (n=72), with a
total of 177 injuries being reported with shoulder pain being the most prevalent (38%). The 12-
month prevalence showed 133 injuries were sustained whereas for current prevalence there
were 86 injuries. Lower back pain was most frequently reported over these periods (26% and
22% respectively). The board race was the most popular event participated in at 76% (n=76),
followed by surf ski 69% (n=69) and thirdly surf swim 67% (n=67). Seventy-four percent (74%)
of board paddlers, 68% of surf ski paddlers and 67% of beach sprint and flags participants had
experienced MSK pain related to lifesaving. Of the 72 competitors that experienced lifesaving
MSK injuries more than half reported that it negatively affected them psychologically either in
training, competition or overall. Injuries cause athletes to miss training sessions, which result in loss of fitness and falling behind the other athletes, this could cause a lack of confidence,
lack of self-belief and lack of motivation to continue training and competing. The worst injury
that the respondents had sustained occur mostly due to running (44%), was overuse related
(43%), occurring in season (70%) and was described as a sharp, shooting severe pain with a
constant and recurrent nature. It affected the athlete’s participation in the sport (75%) and
required them to seek medical attention (89%). The only factor found to be related to MSK
injuries was the number of rest days, which was significantly lower in those who suffered injuries
(p=0.04). All other demographic, health, lifestyle and lifesaving activity participation factors
were not associated with MSK lifesaving injuries (p < 0.05).
Conclusion: This is the first study to document MSK injuries in lifesaving athletes in South
Africa. The high prevalence of injuries necessitates that mechanisms are put in place to prevent
injury. In addition, the mechanics of running on sand requires further investigation to understand
its impact on injury
Dissertation submitted in partial compliance with the requirements for the Master's Degree in Technology: Chiropractic, Durban University of Technology, 2020.
Appears in Collections:Theses and dissertations (Health Sciences)

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