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October 1999 Vol. 14, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Self-Test for the Bends

from the October, 1999 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Self-Test for the Bends Have you ever gotten out of the water not feeling as good as you thought you should feel? Maybe you pushed the computer a little and worried that you had a bends hit.

Well, there is a test that might tell you if you have had an inner ear or spinal hit. It’s called “Sharpened Rombergs Test.” But before you try it on a dive trip, you must do it four times before you leave home to get a baseline for yourself. Here’s how.

  1. Stand flat footed (no or low shoes) with one foot directly in front of the other, heel to toe.
  2. Place your left hand on your right shoulder and your right hand on your left shoulder.
  3. Close your eyes, and adjust your weight if necessary until you feel stable. Then have someone time how long you can remain in this position (and to catch you if you topple over). It is normal to waver or rock from side to side. If you can hold this position for 60 seconds, you are all right.

The test measures any change in balance that might indicate an inner ear or spinal cord hit. Dr. Hugh Greer, a neurologist, told us, “Docs do not use this test because it takes too much time. But it is a good indication of balance and whether there have been any changes.”

Dr. Kelly Hill, Jr. Medical Director of Hyperbaric Medicine at Our Lady of the Lake Medical Center in Baton Rouge, LA, is less sure the test is helpful. “It may indicate DCI problems when there really are none. But, even worse, the test may indicate no problem, but the hit may be somewhere other than the inner ear or spine, and it will go untreated.”

The test must be conducted from a stable platform. Don’t try it on the deck of a moving boat or when water conditions cause the vessel to move even slightly. Also, some people, particularly older divers, cannot stand for 60 seconds, even if they haven’t been diving for years. But if you’re off to sea, the test is one more tool in your kit

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