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Sea urchin injuries

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

Sea urchins are black spiked marine life that are found in the rock pools along our shores. Their positioning in dark submerged spots within popular swimming spots means sea urchin spine punctures are common, particularly in feet. They cause pain and inflammation but often do not need medical treatment.

More information

Sea urchins cause injury through the physical discomfort of spines breaking off within our soft tissue but also with a mild toxin/sting that is associated with this action.

The feet are usually affected due to their proximity to the seafloor but surfers who are pulled over rocks can find themselves covered in these small spines.

Generally, removal of these spines relieves the pain; however, spine removal is troublesome due to the thick dermis on the soles of the feet and the fragility of the spines which can splinter on pressure from tweezers.

What can I do to help in the first instance?

Firstly, do not walk on the spines as this will only embed the spines further into the foot.

If you have fine enough tweezers, attempt to slowly remove the spines that are visible. Ensure you have rinsed the wounds well to help remove any loose foreign bodies. Soaking the feet for 30 minutes in warm vinegar can help dissolve spines and promote their rise to the surface.

The majority of superficial spines will work themselves out within a few weeks but if spines migrate deeper and become embedded then they can cause significant pain long-term.

When should I see my doctor?

Large and deep spines should be examined by your doctor to see if they can be removed. If they cannot be removed by your doctor, or the intensity of pain raises the possibility of deeper spines, assessment should be in a hospital setting to allow for deep exploration, sometimes using X-ray or MRI scans to assess further. If the wounds are worsening over the ensuing days with no improvement in pain or inflammation, your doctor may consider whether there could be secondary infection that may benefit from some antibiotics.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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