The Swim Doctor On Open Water Swimming Safely

The Swim Doctor On Open Water Swimming Safely

Dr. Sandra Harrell’s life changed in college after suffering an extreme concussion while swimming. The incident led her to research, study and educate others on concussions, and the importance of water safety to prevent head injuries. 

An estimated 1.6-3.8 million US athletes sustain concussions each year, although the true number is likely much higher, due to unreported incidents. 

For anyone who has raced in open water knows, it is a contact sport.  With hundreds of swimmers running, jumping and diving into the water at the same time, often surrounded by boats, kayaks or stand up paddle boards, the situation can be very dangerous, with the most common and dangerous being concussions. 

Dr. Harrell points out, “Protecting your head when swimming open water is vital. Concussions don’t just affect the brain, they affect organs, the neck, blood flow, hormones and metabolism and can take up to 30 days to recover from.”  

Almost all contact sports have helmets, but swimmers don’t have that option. Still there are a few preventative measures you can take to avoid head injury. 

How to Avoid Head Injury in an Open Water Race

  1. Don’t be a hero at the start

If you’re not looking to medal, there’s no need to sprint in with the alpha pack and subject yourself to unnecessary risk. Take your time, position yourself on the outside of the pack. There’s no need to subject yourself to the mayhem of flying feet and elbows. 

  1. Never assume boats, kayaks, or paddle boarders can see you

You should maintain constant spatial awareness and body control, especially at the start of a race, so you can quickly maneuver out of the way if needed. Safety personnel on any kind of vessel may have their sightline focused elsewhere and it would be dangerous to assume they see you or are able to avoid hitting you before it’s too late. Especially during rough conditions in the ocean, it is very easy to see 

  1. Wear a protective swim cap

The only protective swim cap on the market, Hammer Head, is lined with HIT Honeycomb Impact Technology® that is designed to absorb and distribute the force of a head collision to reduce the impact that your brain could sustain. Furthermore, the swim cap dome design reduces frontal drag, which makes it actually faster than a normal latex or silicon cap and not one Hammer Head has ever ripped due to its seamless construction. And you can wear it under your designated race cap. 

“As a researcher and head safety advocate, protecting your head and optimizing head safety is critical to maintaining brain health throughout every stage of life.  I highly recommend this product as this is the world’s first protective swim cap and there are no other products like this.”

About Dr. Sandra Harrell

Dr. Sandra Harrell is a 5x NCAA All-American swimmer, a 2x UC San Diego Pool record holder and has 20+ years of swimming experience. Alongside this, she is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a licensed physical therapist with experience in neurological conditions such as spinal cord injuries and concussions. She has published her research in the Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Journal. 

To hear more from Dr. Harrell, you can go to her Instagram: @theswimmersdoc 

About Hammer Head Swim Caps

Hammer Head swimming caps are all about water safety and preventing head injuries in the pool and open water. The Hammer Head cap is designed to reduce the risks of head injuries. The honeycomb technology and thickness of the material provides a significant layer of protection and is invisible from the outside. Alternatively, swimmers should wear HH caps after sustaining a head injury to reduce the risks of a 2nd impact during the “vulnerability period” of post-concussion.  Hammer Head is 50% safer, up to 10.5% faster and 100% more durable than other caps, which is why it was nominated for a 2021 WOWSA Award Product of the Year.


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