Deep Diving Maladies – Compression Arthralgia
Compression Arthralgia (also called compression pains) can onset as shallow as 60m/200ft but becomes more significant as depth/pressure increases.
The severity of compression pains is determined by:
- Speed of descent (rate of compression)
- Depth attained (significance of compression)
- Level of diver exertion or activity
There is also a varying level of individual susceptibility.
Compression arthralgia is typically associated with saturation divers at extreme depth. However, it must be remembered that these divers typically conduct very slow compression (descent rates circa 1m per minute).
Recreational technical divers would typically encounter much higher rates of compression during air or trimix dives (descent rates circa 20-30m per minute). As a result, they provoke compression arthralgia at much shallower depths.
What are the causes of compression pains?
Medical science does not yet understand the physiological cause of compression arthralgia. However, it is believed that a sudden onset in gas pressure within the joints causes a form of osmosis. Fluid shifts from the joint lubrication to the surrounding blood.
What are the symptoms of compression arthralgia?
The symptoms of compression arthralgia are as you might expect. Mild to severe or debilitating pain that can occur suddenly in any of the joints during descent.
The sensation is described as a deep, aching, pain coupled with a “popping” and/or “sandpaper” sensation when moving the affected joint.
Symptoms of compression pains usually resolve during the decompression phase of the dive.
Continued pain post-dive may indicate a physical injury of the joint caused by compression pains. Post-dive pain in the joints can be confused with Type 1 DCS. However, in the case of compression arthralgia there will be no relief of symptoms during hyperbaric treatment.
Currently residing in Subic Bay, Philippines; he has amassed more than 10,000 open-circuit and CCR dives over three decades of challenging diving across the globe.
Andy has published numerous diving magazine articles and designed advanced certification courses for several dive training agencies, He regularly tests and reviews new dive gear for scuba equipment manufacturers. Andy is currently writing a series of advanced diving books and creating a range of tech diving clothing and accessories.
Prior to becoming a professional technical diving educator in 2006, Andy was a commissioned officer in the Royal Air Force and has served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Belize, and Cyprus.
In 2023, Andy was named in the “Who’s Who of Sidemount” list by GUE InDepth Magazine.