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Cycling involved in eight in ten sports-related spinal injuries

Better bike lanes, driver education and helmet advocacy could reduce number of casualties, say authors

Eight ​in ten sports-related spinal injuries involve cycling, according to new research from Harvard University – the vast majority of those resulting from collisions involving motor vehicles, with the authors saying that better bike lanes and driver education, as well as helmet advocacy, could help reduce the number.

The study, published in Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, also found that one in three patients with sports-related trauma had spinal injuries, including fractured vertebrae and damage to the spinal cord.

Its authors say that the findings of the research can help influence policy in the area, including how to try and prevent such injuries happening in future, with making cycling safer specifically highlighted.

Researchers analysed 80,000 hospital records from 2011-14 relating to patients discharged for rehabilitation following injuries resulting from sport and identified 12,031 cases of traumatic spinal injury.

Men accounted for 82 per cent of those patients, and 81 per cent of the injuries were related to cycling, followed by skiing and snowboarding at 12 per cent, then aquatic sports and contact sports. 9.1 per cent of patients needed spinal surgery on first being admitted to hospital.

Among those patients, there was an increase in hospital stay of 2.3 days on average compared to those with non-spinal sports-related injuries, and in 15 per cent of cases there was damage to the spinal cord – more common in aquatic sports and contact sports at 49 and 41 per cent, respectively, of all spinal injuries, followed by cycling on 13 per cent.

While the study refers throughout to sports-related injuries, the data for cycling encompasses all forms of riding bikes, including on the road for commuting or going to the shops.

“Notably, most sports-related TSIs were from motor vehicle-related cycling accidents in which the patient was not operating the vehicle (81.0 per cent),” the study said.

“Although many cities with a high volume of traffic acknowledge the importance of helmet safety and have initiated measures to curb motor vehicle-related cycling accidents, including protected bike lanes and helmet laws, there is still a clear disparity between policy and TSI occurrence.

“Previous studies reveal a discrepancy between bikers acknowledging the importance of helmet use versus actually choosing to wear helmets, which indicates that helmet advocacy initiatives might improve rates of helmet use. 

“In conjunction with interventions such as improving bike lanes and educating motorists, helmet advocacy may help to reduce the incidence of cycling-related TSIs.”

Lead author Blake M. Hauser told Healio Orthopedics: “Additional research is required to fully understand the implications of these findings, as well as how best to prevent sports-related traumatic spine injuries, in adults.

“However, it is clear that these injuries can have potentially devastating consequences for patients, and improving policies and education regarding participant safety may prove to be effective interventions.

“Counselling adult patients about safety measures might also help to prevent sports-related injuries and could merit further research,” he added.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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