With the Thrills Come Extreme Risks

 MARCH 31, 2014

Despite several well-publicized accidents, like the death last year of the snowmobiler Caleb Moore, just 25, the popularity of extreme sports has soared in recent years. Participants in the X Games and other sporting events regularly perform heart-stopping tricks on skis and snowboards, skateboards and mountain bikes, all of them endlessly replayed on YouTube and television for a growing audience of thrill-seekers.

Unfortunately, many young people eager for an adrenaline rush are trying to copy their extreme sports idols, putting themselves at terrible risk. Filled with overconfidence, many participants lack the skills and training for these stunts. And often they fail to use safety equipment that could reduce the risk of serious injury. Amateurs without referees, coaches or medical personnel around can end up with broken bones, crushed skulls, severe concussions, ruptured blood vessels or lifelong disability — if they survive.

More than four million injuries attributed to extreme sports occurred from 2000 through 2011, according to data collected by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. In the first-ever study of the nature of these injuries, Dr. Vani J. Sabesan, an orthopedic surgeon at Western Michigan University School of Medicine, and her colleagues examined the incidence of head and neck injuries, the most serious hazards short of death.

At the recent annual meeting of the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons, Dr. Sabesan reported that more than 40,000 such injuries occur annually among participants in seven extreme sports, including skateboarding, snowboarding, mountain biking and motocross. Her analysis showed that 83 percent were head injuries and 17 percent neck injuries, with 2.5 percent described as severe, resulting in potential lifelong disability or death.

“The level of competition and injuries we’re seeing keep rising,” Dr. Sabesan said in an interview. “Many do recover, but not necessarily without long-term consequences.” Dr. Sabesan noted that head and neck injuries were of particular concern because of the “increased awareness of their short- and long-term consequences: concussions, fractures and traumatic brain injuries, which can result in outcomes such aschronic depression, headaches, paralysis and death.” [read more..]