The Bends – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Compensation

Commercial divers take a risk each time they plunge deep into the water. When a diver breathes gas under pressure, such as nitrogen, various complications can arise. As a diver breathes in nitrogen or other gases, the body cannot metabolize the substance, which can lead to a condition known as the bends, or decompression sickness. Every year, more than 500 people in the United States suffer from the bends.

The bends is caused by an increase in nitrogen in the air tank as the diver is descending into the water. According to, “for every 33 feet in ocean water, the pressure due to nitrogen goes up another 11.6 pounds per square inch, or 600 torr.” As the pressure increases due to nitrogen, the gas dissolves into the diver’s body tissues. Nitrogen cannot be used by the body and builds up over time. A commercial diver can suffer from the bends, if any of the following situations occur:

  • Diver ascended too quickly
  • Diver surfaced too quickly
  • Diver was in a pressurized caisson
  • Diving company was negligent
  • Improper decompression tables were used

The risk of developing decompression sickness is linked to the depth of the dive, the amount of time under pressure and the rate of ascent. Dive tables have been created to show what depths and dive times are less risky for development of the bends.

More than 50 percent of divers with the bends report symptoms within one hour of surfacing from the dive. Generally, all of the symptoms of the bends will surface within 24-48 hours. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Skin itching
  • Rashes
  • Swollen or painful lymph nodes
  • Head, neck or torso pain
  • Weakness on one side of the body
  • Numbness
  • Pains shooting down an arm or leg
  • Burning chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Spinning sensation
  • Deafness
  • Vomiting

Someone experiencing the symptoms of the bends will most likely be admitted to the hospital for observation. The doctor will first focus on treating life threatening side effects of decompression sickness and may give the diver high-flow oxygen or IV fluids. The diver may be sent to a hyperbaric chamber for recompression. When hyperbaric oxygen treatment is immediately administered to the diver, there is generally a good prognosis.

If you have suffered the bends and are a commercial diver, the diving company may be responsible depending on what caused your dive injury. Contact our law firm today to find out if you have a case against your diving company. You may be entitled to compensation for your diving injuries.