Significant head and neck injury risk associated with extreme sports

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A new study presented at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons shows that extreme sports such as snowboarding and skateboarding present high risk for head and neck injuries, including concussions. The findings support the need for greater education and advocacy efforts for safer equipment.

In this first-of-its-kind study, researchers reviewed 2000-2011 National Electronic Injury Surveillance System data for seven popular sports featured in the Winter and Summer X Games: surfing, mountain biking, motocross, skateboarding, snowboarding, snowmobiling and snow skiing. Data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database was collected for each individual sport, and type of head and neck injury: lacerations, contusions/abrasions, fractures, sprains (neck) and concussions (head). The risk of concussion, neck fracture and skull fracture were calculated using extreme sport participation rates from the 2013 Outdoor Foundation Participation Report.

Of the 4 million injuries reported for extreme sport participants, 11.3% were head and neck injuries. Of all head and neck injuries reported in extreme sports, 83% were head injuries and 17% neck injuries. The data included all ages; however, teens and young adults accounted for the highest percentage of extreme sport injuries. Other findings included:

  • The four sports with the highest incidence of head and neck injuries were skateboarding (129,600), snowboarding (97,527), skiing (83,313) and motocross (78,236).
  • Concussions were the most common head and neck injury among extreme sports participants. The risk of suffering a concussion was highest in snowboarding and skateboarding.
  • Skateboarders also were found to have the highest risk of skull fractures.
  • Surfers had the highest risk of neck fracture with a risk 38 times greater than skateboarders.
  • The incidence of extreme sports head and neck injuries increased from 34,065 in 2000 to 40,042 in 2010, although the trend was not consistent year-to-year.

“The research provides a baseline to further study head and neck injuries among extreme sport participants,” says Vani J Sabesan, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at Western Michigan University School of Medicine, and lead author of the study. “There’s an understanding that these sports are growing in participation, and that they can result in significant injuries.”

The findings provide “an opportunity for sports medicine and orthopaedic surgeons to advocate for safer equipment, improved on-site medical care, and further research regarding extreme sport injuries,” says Sabesan.