Measuring the Wobbliness of Scuba Divers

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In order to maintain balance, our body needs a number of structures to be working correctly. We need to know what the joints are doing, so that our muscles can make any necessary adjustments to keep us upright. We also need the signals from those joints to travel up the brain without interruption and then to be interpreted correctly. The signals from the brain have to go back down again and the muscles must be able to make any necessary corrections to maintain our posture. Additionally, the balance detectors located in our ears must also be working.

Most of the time though, we have another back-up source of information which we use to maintain balance, even if the above mechanisms are faulty – we keep our eyes open! So we instantly see if our balance is incorrect and adjust accordingly.

Balance testing and divers. 

Divers with decompression illness (DCI) can sustain an injury to the balance pathways. Sometimes these injuries can be subtle and the diver affected wouldn’t necessarily know he or she had a problem – because with the eyes open a balance problem wouldn’t be immediately apparent. Dive doctors test for this possibility by the use of the Sharpened Romberg Test. This test is performed with the eyes closed, so the compensatory visual mechanism is eliminated. But balance is a difficult skill. Even healthy individuals find themselves a bit wobbly with their eyes closed!

What are we doing at DIVE2014 (Birmingham NEC, October 2014)?

At the Dive Show (DIVE2014) from 25th/26th October 2014, I will be working with DDRC Healthcare inviting people to undertake a test with us on Stand 1436. We will ask participants to place one foot in front of the other, fold their arms across their chest, close their eyes and try to maintain balance for as long as possible. In order to measure the amount of wobble, we will ask volunteers to place a few sticky markers to their clothing. This will allow us to use a computer programme to measure the amount of postural sway – or in layman’s terms ‘wobble’!

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What will we be doing with the findings? 

Postural sway, or ‘wobble’ reflects instability. There’s a large natural variation between individuals, even in health. The data we gather will help us understand this natural variation. This will help diving doctors make their judgements about when people may have returned to their pre-DCI state.

What does the test result mean to individual divers? 

Apart from DCI there are lots of reasons why an individual may be wobbly in this test. The most common one is the natural variation between individuals! If you attempt the test and find you are more wobbly than expected, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong. We won’t be attempting any on-the-spot diagnosis on our Dive Show volunteers!

For fun, we will make a note of the details of any willing participant who remains upright for 60 seconds, and analysis of their video will reveal the person with the least amount of ‘wobble’. The winner will receive a prize from DDRC!

For more information on DDRC Healthcare’ research work linked to the health of divers, including there most recent survey which focuses on Dental Health & UK Divers, visit http://www.ddrc.org/divingresearch/ 

By Sam Harding (DDRC Healthcare Chamber Team) and Dr Simon Williams (DDRC Healthcare Doctor)

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