Hyperbaric Treatment Deviations for U.S. Navy Divers: Spinal DCS

Document Type


Publication Title

Undersea & Hyperbaric Medicine


Introduction: The United States Navy (USN) developed and refined standardized oxygen treatment tables for diving injuries, but USN tables may not address all situations of spinal decompression sickness (DCS). We describe a detailed recompression treatment regimen that deviated from standard USN protocol for an active-duty USN diver with a severe, delayed presentation of spinal cord DCS.

Case report: A USN diver surfaced from his second of three dives on a standard Navy 'no-Decompression' Air SCUBA dive (Max depth 101 fsw utilizing a Navy Dive Computer) and developed mid-thoracic back pain, intense nausea, paresthesias of bilateral feet, and penile erection. Either not recognizing the con- stellation of symptoms as DCS and after resolution of the aforementioned symptoms, he completed the third planned dive (essentially an in-water recompression). Several hours later, he developed paresthesias and numbness of bilateral feet and legs and bowel incontinence. He presented for hyperbaric treatment twenty hours after surfacing from the final dive and was diagnosed with severe spinal DCS. Based on the severity of clinical presentation and delay to treatment, the initial and follow-on treatments were modified from standard USN protocol. MRI of the spine four days after initial presentation demonstrated a 2.2 cm lesion at the T4 vertebral level extending caudally. Follow-up examinations over two years demonstrated almost complete return of motor and sensory function; however, the patient continued to suffer fecal incontinence and demonstrated an abnormal post-void residual urinary volume. An atypical presenting symptom, a discussion of MRI findings, and clinical correlations to the syndrome of spinal DCS are discussed throughout treatment and long-term recovery of the patient.

Publication Date

Winter 2023


Catalina table, MRI, Treatment Table 6, USN, decompression illness, decompression sickness, hyperbaric oxygen (HBO2), hyperbaric oxygen (HBO2) therapy, priapism, spinal decompression sickness, spinal shock, DCI, DCS