What Are the Most Common Injuries in Whitewater Rafting?

June 29, 2022 3 min read

Injuries are common in whitewater rafting. They can include sprains of the neck, stubbed toes, Whiplash-type injuries, and skin infections. Here are some common causes of injury, and how to avoid them. Follow these tips to make whitewater rafting safer for you and your friends!

Sprains in the Neck

While the majority of injuries happen on the river, they're relatively minor. The most common ones occur on class 3 and 4 rapids. The risk of being struck by rocks and suddenly changing directions can result in neck sprains and whiplash-type injuries. These injuries can be painful and may require medical treatment. A rafting safety guide will provide you with tips to prevent or minimize the risks associated with neck and back injuries.

Injuries to the neck and face can also result from rafting. According to Whisman and Hollenhorst, 33% of rafting injuries occur to the face. Some kayakers even wear helmets with built-in face masks. But even helmets aren't 100% effective. These injuries can result in a broken bone.

Stubbed Toes

A stubbed toe is one of the most common injuries experienced during whitewater rafting. While this common ailment isn't particularly serious, it can be extremely painful. In most cases, a stubbed toe will heal on its own within two months. But for some people, this is not the case, and they may require medical attention. If you have stubbed toes, here are a few steps you can take to reduce your risk of suffering a painful injury.

Wearing water shoes is the first step to protecting your feet. When selecting a pair of shoes, make sure to try them on before the trip. Also, make sure you apply sunscreen to your feet throughout the day, as sunburned feet are one of the most common complaints of guests. While stubbed toes are the most common whitewater rafting injuries, there are a few other ways to prevent them.

Whiplash-Type Injuries

While rafting, there is a significant risk for whiplash-type injuries. Whitewater consists of rapids, which are typically class three or four. This can result in neck sprains or a fractured or dislocated vertebra. Depending on the severity of the injury, physical therapy or spinal decompression may be recommended. A lifestyle adjustment may be necessary. Recovery time depends on the severity of the injury. Minor injuries may heal in a few days while more serious whiplash-type injuries may take weeks to recover. In general, recovery time is around three months.

The majority of injuries occurred in the raft, either during the onset of an accident or after a whitewater rafting trip. They usually result from collisions between passengers, contact with equipment, or falling out of the raft. During the course of a trip, most of these injuries occur to the head, neck, or face. Injuries of the wrist and hands are often not visible until weeks or months after the rafting experience.

Skin Infections

The risk of infection from waterborne agents is always present during whitewater sports, including rafting. Many rivers are hyperendemic for mycoses, which thrive in riverbed soil. In recent years, outbreaks of blastomycosis have occurred in whitewater rafting communities. If you experience flu-like symptoms or a skin rash, consult your physician for diagnosis and treatment. The severity of blastomycosis is often correlated with the infective load. Treatment for mild cases is itraconazole, but if the infection is severe, use an amphotericin product.

Among the most common injuries from whitewater rafting, laceration is the most common, occurring in one-third of cases in a West Virginia study. Chronic injuries were rarer among rafters. In contrast, 25% to 40% of kayakers suffered from chronic injuries. However, a recent study shows that whitewater rafting injuries are rare, with a much lower rate than in kayaking.


Overexertion is one of the most commonly reported whitewater rafting injuries. This type of injury is particularly common in people who are not in good physical condition. A majority of the fatalities during this activity are from heart attacks, and in many cases the rescuer suffers from a heart attack as well. For this reason, it is crucial to stay hydrated and rest adequately during rafting.

Injuries to the body can occur at any level of the activity, so it is vital to know your own physical condition before starting a whitewater rafting adventure. If you do not have much experience, start with class I or II rivers and work up to more challenging rapids as you get more comfortable with the activity. It is important to be aware of your current level of fitness before heading out, and reapply sunscreen frequently.

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