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Mountain Bikers Go Head Over Heels

Popularity and injuries on the rise, study says

WEDNESDAY, June 13, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Taking your mountain bike down that rocky slope? If you're not wearing enough protective gear, you might be taking your broken bones -- or worse -- to the emergency room.

A British study of a year's worth of emergency-room data found 84 bicycling injuries, about a fifth involving ruptured internal organs, head and neck injuries and broken bones.

Most of the battered bicyclists were young men, who enjoyed the thrill of the sport, but ages ranged from 8 to 71. Almost half had fractures of the collarbone, shoulder or legs. And 19 needed surgery, some requiring many procedures and long hospital stays.

The most common fracture overall involved the collarbone, at 13 percent, and shoulder girdle (which includes both collarbones and shoulder blades) injuries, at 12 percent; bone breaks just above the wrist were 11 percent of the total and soft tissue cuts made up 10 percent. Other injuries involved knees, chests, necks, ligaments or other body parts.

Although not surprised by the number of injuries from the sport, "we were surprised by the serious nature of some injuries," says lead study author Dr. Lee Jeys, an orthopedic surgeon-in-training in the trauma unit of the orthopedic surgery department at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital in England.

More protective gear and education are needed as the sport continues to grow, especially after receiving Olympic status last year, says Jeys.

"If people realized there is a chance of serious injury, including paralysis or death, it may encourage them to wear protective clothing." says Jeys. Although the study found no deaths, Jeys says the nature of the forces involved and the energy imparted on impact mean it's only a matter of time before someone dies.

He says getting people to don new types of protective gear, like Kevlar-type shoulder and knee protectors, may not be easy. That kind of gear is still being studied for how well it works, he says.

The study appears in the current British Journal of Sports Medicine. In an accompanying commentary, Chris Jarvis, medical officer for the governing body of the British Cycling Foundation, says more education and training are needed, not more body armor.

He says while bicyclists usually wear helmets, which are compulsory at competitive events, body armor is impractical.

The study shows that "mountain biking is an inclusive sport accessible to a broad range of ages and abilities. The level of skill necessary for some courses is high, and youth may just overreach itself," says Jarvis.

Jordan Bishko, a competitive rider and former bike shop manager who now consults on mountain biking, says, "In order to do any internal damage, you really have to be going fast. If you're strictly going downhill, you can achieve those speeds."

Bishko says most courses are up and down, making it "hard to go fast enough to come flying off your bike and break a bone."

Sure, he says some thrill seekers will get a ride up the mountain, then, like skiers, get their adrenaline rush going downhill, but most riders know their limits and slow down when they see trouble.

Bishko says he would wear the new armor, more so he could ride again, than for injury protection. "If I crash, I'd want to be able to get back up on my bike and ride as quickly as possible," and the armor might help me do that.

Jeys says, "Nobody is trying to put anyone off biking, just warning them to take care. You can't make people wear protective gear. It's a personal choice. We're trying to educate people."

What To Do

"Take it easy!" says Jeys. "Know the track. Think about getting some protective gear, a helmet at the minimum."

"Ride with someone better than you," Bishko suggests. "You'll pick up techniques and learn how to go faster." Local bike clubs or your nearby bike shop should be able to hook you up with like-minded cyclists, he says.

For more on mountain biking, go to the w ROMP -- Responsible Organized Mountain Pedalers website.

Find out what protective gear is recommended by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

For more HealthDay stories on sports injuries, click here.

SOURCES: Interviews with Lee Jeys, M.D., surgeon in training, Trauma Unit, Orthopaedic Surgery Department, Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, Shrewsbury, U.K.; Jordan Bishko, mountain biker consultant; May 2001 British Journal of Sports Medicine
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