The ‘Bends‘ happens in 2.8 out of 10,000 dives, but where does the expression come from?
Whether you’re a seasoned scuba diver or a notice, you should ‘ve come across the concept of decompression sickness. But why is decompression sickness called the bends?
Decompression sickness, which his also known as 'the bends', is most common among divers using scuba tanks. It's called the bends because afflicted individuals characteristically bend forward at the hips due to the joint pain it causes. Decompression sickness (DCS) or the bends is a potentially deadly condition. It's caused by bubbles of nitrogen gas forming in the blood and tissues, which is usually as a result of a fast ascent from a dive or from missed decompression stops.
What is decompression sickness or the bends?
Decompression sickness (DCS), which is also known as divers' disease or the bends, describes the condition that affects scuba divers. The condition arises from dissolved gases (mostly nitrogen) coming out of solution, forming into bubbles inside the body on depressurisation.
This can occur on an ascent from a dive. But it usually only happens due to a rapid ascent from depth. Or if a scuba diver misses a decompression stop on their ascent.
More Reading: How do you do a decompression stop vs a safety stop
How many divers are affected by decompression sickness?
Whilst the incidence of decompression sickness is rare, world-wide it's estimated that there are around 2.8 cases per 10,000 dives. But research shows that the risk for male scuba divers is 2.6 times greater than for female scuba divers.
According to the Divers Alert Network (DAN), decompression sickness occurs in approximately 1,000 U.S. scuba divers each year.
Why is decompression sickness also called the bends?
Whilst we know what decompression sickness is, why is it also called the bends?
It was Andrew Smith who first used the term "caisson disease", which was the term used to describe 110 cases of decompression sickness. Smith was the physician who was in charge of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was here that these cases of caisson disease occurred.
This project employed 600 around 'compressed air workers'. But for them recompression treatment wasn't used. This in turn is what cause the high numbers of decompression sickness in these divers.
More Reading: What happens if you don’t decompress when scuba diving
It was during this project that decompression sickness became known as "The Grecian Bends" or simply "the bends". The reason for the term "The Bends" was because the afflicted individuals characteristically bent forward at the hips. This was as a result of the joint pain cause from the formation of bubbles in the joints.
But the term 'the bends' was so used due to a then popular women's fashion dance manoeuvre known as the Grecian Bend. The Grecian bend was a term which was first applied to a stooped posture, which became fashionable in around 1820. At the time the "bend" was considered to be very daring!
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