Aches and Pains – how can you tell if it’s DCI?

So how can we determine whether we should be concerned that those aches and pains are DCI?

Tingling-foot-diver-aches and pains

Differentiating between general aches and pains that may occur from overdoing it lifting dive equipment, as opposed to a symptom that could be associated with DCI, can be tricky. So how can we determine whether we should be concerned? Factors such as when the symptom/s commence and how they present can help in deciphering.

Diver Question

I made two dives about a month ago. The first was to 27m for 20 minutes, and the second was to 11m for 35 minutes. I was well within my computer guidelines, we did not do a safety stop, and I may have had one slightly fast ascent. I was OK until about four days after the dive, when I noticed a sharp pain in my elbow. If I’m not using my arm, I don’ t notice any pain at all. But if I rotate my forearm or bend my elbow, I still get a dull ache. Is there any way this could be related to my dives?

DAN Answer

If you were symptom-free for four full days, then it is unlikely that subsequent symptoms are related to decompression illness and your dive. The nitrogen you absorbed during your dives has to follow the physiology of basic gas laws – it cannot stay in the body tissues once the partial pressure of nitrogen in the ambient air we breathe drops down to sea-level pressures.

Although nitrogen leaves the body in a much slower fashion than we take it on, it still must leave. After diving, you should be equilibrated to ambient nitrogen in 24 hours. However, significant bubble formation and the body’s subsequent reaction to this can extend this time considerably. If the pain can be produced with movement of the affected joint only, then it is more than likely a musculoskeletal strain or injury. The pain generally associated with decompression illness is not affected by movement or lack of movement and usually remains constant.

The ability to reproduce the symptom with movement indicates a stress or repetitive movement injury. If you have not seen your personal physician, it would be wise to do so. Any symptom or injury that persists for a month is a health concern. Appropriate therapy is indicated to prevent permanent injuries.

Always consult a diving medical specialist (e.g., on a DAN-supported hotline) to determine whether or not a symptom might be DCI, as they have the training and experience to review the whole picture. Do not try to determine this yourself or rely on others without specific diving medical training, as it may delay necessary treatment.

Got a diving medical question? Check out DAN Doc for information and answers to a broad range of medical issues and questions.

Answer provided by the DAN Medical Team

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