Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Injury Patterns Among Canyoneers

Nearly everyone interested in wilderness medicine and many more people are familiar with the tail of survival written by Aron Ralston in his spellbinding book entitled Between a Rock and a Hard Place. Aron superbly details how he fell into difficulty, his brush with death, and how he was forced to amputate part of his arm in order to extricate himself from being pinned by a boulder in order to save his life. His story is one of the great adventure tails of our times.

Persons who explore in canyons face certain risks. In Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, 18, 16-19 (2007) appears an article entitled Injury Patterns and First Aid Training Among Canyoneers by Drs. Steven Stephanides and Taher Vohra. These doctors completed a web-based survey of canyoneers in order to ascertain injuries experienced or treated, first aid training, and whether or not first aid supplies were carried.

The authors received 38 responses. The group that responded did not require any evacuations, but identified the following as their most common medical problems, in descending order of frequency: cuts and scrapes, minor orthopedic issues (such as sprains and strains), encounters with cactus and other injurious plants, heat injury, hypothermia (it gets cold at night...), major orthopedic issues (such as broken bones), and falls. Most of the respondents were males, which probably indicates that gender's predilection for exploring narrow canyons along watercourses, and how the survey was distributed (primarily to two American and one Australian canyoneering interest e-groups).

No conclusions were drawn about first aid kits or training, but the frequencies of injuries reported are useful in order to allow canyoneers to better prepare for the medical issues they might encounter. To this list of potential situations should be added snakebite, insect stings, sun exposure, drowning, and animal bite.

photo of Aron Ralston courtesy of

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.