Can Scuba Diving Cause Arthritis?

Scuba diving is an inclusive water activity and is suitable for people of all ages. However, as you grow older, there are certain health issues that are likely to slow down your diving activities.

Can scuba diving cause arthritis? It can contribute to arthritis if you suffer from it. One of the main health concerns aging divers face is arthritis. Whether you’re diving with a pre-existing condition or are at risk of getting arthritis, there are certain measures you can take to have a safe dive.

Can Scuba Diving Cause Arthritis

Does Scuba Diving Increase Arthritis Suffering?

Arthritis is of many different types and while they have their own symptoms, the one thing they all share in common is the inflammation and pain they cause to your joints. There are complications in diving with arthritis. Here are the main problems to look out for:

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by inflamed joints which lead to immobility and pain in your ankles, wrists, and fingers. The blood flow in the body is altered which can even make it painful for the diver to take care of their dive equipment.

Scuba diving should be avoided, at least on days of increased inflammation. If the problem is temporary, you can get a medical exam and once your reports are clear, you’re ready to dive.

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Osteoarthritis affects a patient’s bones and cartilage. It causes joint pain with intensity varying based on how serious your illness is. Divers with Osteoarthritis may face difficulties in performing simple tasks like opening their dive tank valve or pulling up their zipper.

You can find out from your physician if it’s safe for you to scuba dive with your level of osteoarthritis. Tanks with bigger knobs and large-sized zippers are also available. It’s also important to remember that arthritis patients should never dive alone. They should be accompanied by a dive partner at all times to provide assistance in case there’s an emergency.

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Does Scuba Diving Benefit Osteoarthritis Patients?

Keeping the necessary safety precautions in mind, scuba diving can actually benefit divers with osteoarthritis. The natural buoyancy of the human body in the water reduces the weight on your joints. It can actually be used as a means of seeking pain relief.

Swimming will strengthen your muscles, including joint muscles, and ease the pain. Being in the water helps your body release endorphins which double as natural painkillers. Diving improves your blood circulation and can also potentially lower your blood pressure.

Distinguishing Between Osteoarthritis & Decompression Sickness

Decompression sickness refers to joint pains caused by the buildup of compressed nitrogen bubbles in a scuba diver’s body. The symptoms of decompression sickness often overlap those of osteoarthritis and doctors may find it difficult to make a diagnosis. It’s best to dive when the symptoms have subsided to avoid this confusion.

Precautions for Divers with Arthritis

Diving with arthritis requires a few extra measures as opposed to a regular scuba dive. Here are the main sensitive points you need to look out for:

Stay fit

Whether it’s an early morning jog or yoga classes, keep your body active and your joints moving. This will help your body stay flexible.

Use a Smaller Tank

The average volume for a scuba tank is 80 cubic feet. If you’re shallow diving, you can request a smaller tank which will put less pressure on your bank.

It’s important to note that a small tank is highly unadvisable for deep diving since you don’t know how much air you’ll need and running out can possibly kill you. If done right, scuba diving will help ease your back and joint pain.

Tips for Divers with Reynaud’s Disease

Reynaud’s disease is common among arthritic patients and results in finger and arm spasms. The extremities of the body also become extremely cold if exposed to low temperatures. Divers with Reynaud’s can obtain a medical note allowing the use of gloves when scuba diving.

Either way, divers with Arthritis need to find a way to stay warm underwater. Water takes away the warmth from your body significantly faster than air. Hoods and full diving suits are recommended.

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Do You Need to Use Special Kicks When You Dive with Arthritis?

Most divers use flutter kicks to maneuver in the water. These can cause pain in the joints for arthritic patients and can also be very tiring.

Frog kicks are a better stroke for those patients. An added bonus is that you’re unlikely to kick up some sand because of your kicks.

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Don’t Over-exert Yourself

Most experienced divers are capable of four or five dives a day. However, if you’re experiencing any pain, even two dives a day is more than enough. Get plenty of rest between dives as well to ensure you don’t get too exhausted once you get back in the water.

Check the dive conditions beforehand. If there’s a forecast of strong winds or water currents, skip your dive for that day. If you’ve scheduled a dive and suddenly don’t feel like you’re up for it, reschedule.

Can the Pressure in the Depth Worsen Your Arthritis?

There is a belief that the disrupted blood flow in the body and other symptoms of the illness put an arthritic diver at a greater risk of decompression illness. However, the deeper you go in the water, the lesser joint pain you’re likely to experience. You can move your joints freely without exerting pressure or experiencing pain, and in fact, scuba diving can be a great form of exercise for arthritis patients.

Do You Need a Doctor to Clear You?

Inflamed and stiff joints will make it difficult for you to handle your scuba gear and heavy equipment like the dive tank. Sudden waves of fatigue can also reduce your dive time and make you more susceptible to decompression sickness. Certain arthritis types are characterized by body spasms as well.

For these reasons, it is essential to obtain a doctor’s note signifying that you are well enough to finish your dive. Divers with mild to medium arthritis are fit to dive. In fact, it is even encouraged as water activity can be a great way of easing joint pains.

Just remember not to overdo it. Diving too much can have an adverse effect. The fatigue will increase joint pain rather than diminish it. Even worse, if you have decompression illness, your doctor will find it difficult to gauge whether the pain is because of that or arthritis.

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Dive with Caution

If the necessary precautions have been taken into consideration and followed, scuba diving is a beneficial activity for arthritis patients. It’s a great way to attain pain relief and stay active to prevent the illness from worsening.

Just make sure that your physician has approved of your diving activities before you get started. Also, ensure that arthritic divers are always accompanied by a diving buddy to help in case any equipment is stuck or there is an emergency.

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