Which sports incur the most spinal injuries?

The most at-risk sports for traumatic spinal injury are cycling, skiing and snowboarding, according to a study published in Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine.

Harvard researchers, led by Blake Hauser, analysed 12,031 cases of sports-related traumatic spinal injuries in the US, consisting of bone fractures or spinal cord damage, and found that cycling accounted for 81% of cases.

Another 12% of the injuries came from skiing and snowboarding, while aquatic and contact sports accounted for 3%, and skateboarding 1%.

Despite this, spinal-cord injuries were most prevalent in patients with aquatic-sports-related injuries (49% of total spinal-cord injuries) and contact sport (41%). These can lead to longer hospital stays than traumatic spinal injuries that don’t affect the spinal cord.

The most common causes of traumatic spinal injuries in sport were motor vehicles (81%) and falls (14%). It’s likely that cycling injuries were disproportionately high because cyclists share the road with vehicles.

Read More: Cycling: How fast can a human cycle?

Low res spine20 1860 figure prod figure 1. Jpg 1
Upper: Mechanisms of all traumatic spinal injury. Lower: Spinal cord injury prevalence by mechanism of injury. Credit: © American Association of Neurosurgeons.

For this reason, the researchers suggest their findings should help inform safety policies, especially around vehicles and protection of cyclists, and hospital allocations.

“Using a national, multicentre database, our team was able to identify associations between sports-related traumatic spine injuries and clinical outcomes,” says Hauser.

“These findings can be used to inform future research directions, including research regarding policy recommendations to prevent these injuries.”

The median age of patients who incurred a traumatic spinal injury was 48, with 82% of patients male and 78% of Caucasian decent.

Injuries may affect women or people of colour differently, because of varied bone structure, so further studies are needed to learn how sports-related spinal injuries affect these groups. Likewise, the study only represented injuries incurred in the US and it may not reflect road conditions for Australian cyclists, where the number of injuries and the outcomes may be different.

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