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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 the speed of descent (rate of compression), depth attained (significance of compression) and the level of diver exertion or activity. There is also a varying level of individual susceptibility.

Whilst compression arthralgia is typically associated with saturation divers at extreme depth, 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), thereby provoking 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, but it is believed that a sudden onset in gas pressure within the joints causes a form of osmosis; shifting fluid 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, but in the case of compression arthralgia, there will be no relief of symptoms during hyperbaric treatment.

See also: Deep Diving Maladies – High Pressure Nervous Syndrome

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Andy Davis Technical Sidemount Wreck Diving Subic Bay Philippines RAID Courses Training

About the Author

Andy Davis is a RAID, PADI TecRec, ANDI, BSAC and SSI-qualified independent technical diving instructor who specializes in teaching sidemount, trimix and advanced wreck diving courses.

Currently residing in Subic Bay, Philippines; he has amassed more than 10,000 open circuit and CCR dives over 27 years of diving across the globe.

He has published numerous diving magazine articles, designed courses for dive training agencies and tests/reviews dive gear for scuba equipment manufacturers. He 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.

Originally posted 2018-11-05 06:10:36.

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Klaus Stiefel
Klaus Stiefel
March 1, 2019 2:54 pm

Excellent article, good description of the symptoms,

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