Ask the MSK Expert: How to stay safe with water sports


What are some common water sport injuries and tips for prevention?

Dr. Waltrip says: “Water skiing and wake sports are growing in popularity with more than 11 million participants in the United States. These activities involve individuals of all ages ranging from recreational weekend warriors to highly competitive athletes who compete in sanctioned tournaments. These sports require agility, coordination and strong upper and lower body strength. Though water sports are relatively safe, injuries can and do occur. Fortunately, most injuries are minor and involve simple muscle sprains or contusions.  Often, these injuries are self-limited and improve with rest, ice, and possibly anti-inflammatory medications for appropriate athletes.  Physical therapy may be a treatment option as well.

“More significant injuries may occur with falls and require further evaluation.  Falls in some settings can lead to fractures, ligament injuries, tendon tears or dislocations.  Most musculoskeletal injuries in water sports involve the knee or shoulder joints.  Limited motion, weakness, swelling, instability and limited ability to place weight on the extremity are some factors that may signify a more serious injury that requires evaluation by an orthopedic surgeon to determine the best course of treatment.  Evaluation with X-rays and MRI studies may be necessary to confirm diagnoses.  Surgical treatment is occasionally required for more serious injuries.  Less invasive arthroscopic techniques are often utilized to allow for improved recovery.   

“Many injuries can be prevented by attention to proper technique and instruction.  Participants in water skiing and wake sports should perform within the limits of their ability.  Stretching before and after activities may reduce the stress on the soft tissues to lessen the risk of injury.  As in many sports, a strong core is important to stay healthy while participating in water skiing and wake sports.  Proper fitting, appropriately sized flotation life jackets should be utilized at all times.  Equipment should be maintained and routinely inspected for safety concerns.   It is important also to recognize that water sports involve not only the athletes on the water, but also boat drivers and observers.  All should be educated in proper hand signals.  Drivers should be experienced and safety conscious at all times.  A culture of safety first should apply to all participants in water sports to maximize enjoyment and minimize risks of injury.

“Be safe, and have fun this summer on the water!"

Physician Spotlight

Robert L. Waltrip, MD, is a fellowship-trained sports medicine and shoulder surgeon at Tri Rivers. He performs arthroscopic rotator cuff repair and stabilization; shoulder replacement surgery, including reverse shoulder replacement and arthroscopic knee surgery, meniscal surgery and ACL reconstruction. He treats bursitis, shoulder impingement, tendon disorders/tears, fractures and instability.

Dr. Waltrip sees patients at our BHS Crossroads Campus and Cranberry/Mars offices as well as the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. To schedule an appointment with him, or any other Tri Rivers provider, please call 1-866-874-7483 or click here.