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J Spinal Cord Med. 2019 Feb 15:1-6. doi: 10.1080/10790268.2019.1577057. [Epub ahead of print]

Surfer's myelopathy: A review of etiology, pathogenesis, evaluation, and management.

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a Department of Physiology and Biophysics , Stony Brook University School of Medicine , Stony Brook , New York , USA.
b Medical Student Research Institute, St. George's University School of Medicine , St. George , Grenada.
c Department of Internal Medicine , Stony Brook Southampton Hospital , Southampton , New York , USA.
d Department of Urology , Stony Brook University School of Medicine , Stony Brook , New York , USA.



Surfer's myelopathy (SM) is an acute syndrome identified by nontraumatic paraparesis or paraplegia. Though traditionally tied to first-time surfers, the condition encompasses any activity involving hyperextension of the back such as gymnastics, yoga, and Pilates.


MEDLINE® and Google Scholar literature searches were gathered to identify relevant case reports for determining the etiology, pathogenesis, evaluation, and management of SM.


While the rare nature of SM limits its full understanding, studies have pinpointed that hyperextension in the back leads to vasculature insufficiency secondary to dynamic compression of the artery of Adamkiewicz. In surfing, this hyperextension combined with the execution of the Valsalva maneuver while trying to stand up on the surfboard likely increases intraspinal pressure. Due to its nontraumatic origin, the presence of SM is not immediately clear. Moreover, its similarity in clinical and radiological presentations with other entities can further complicate diagnosis. Seemingly, idiopathic urological symptoms can be explained by the physician if they conduct a thorough history.


In an effort to raise awareness for the practicing physician, we presently review the etiology, diagnosis, treatment, and prolonged effects of SM. With the surging popularity of surfing as well as the advent of children participating in precarious sports and activities at an earlier age, we can expect a rising incidence of traumatic and nontraumatic spinal cord injuries. Neurologists, urologists, emergency medicine and sports medicine physicians alike can utilize this review to build a high index of suspicion for SM. The risk factors for SM should be conveyed to those participating in novices in surfing, yoga, gymnastics, ballet, and any activity enabling sustained or repeated spinal extension. Increased general awareness will facilitate increased symptom recognition in order to arrest aggravation of injury.


Artery of Adamkiewicz; Neurogenic bladder; Nontraumatic paraparesis; Nontraumatic spinal cord injury; Sports injury; Surfer’s myelopathy

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