The Winter X Games start today in Aspen. Due the death of freestyle skier Sarah Burke and snowmobiler Caleb Moore in recent years, more attention has been focused on injuries – especially head and neck injuries – in extreme sports.Are head injuries common in extreme sports?

Given the media coverage of the ESPN competition this week, on top of thousands of people traveling to ski and snowboard this winter, I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss serious injuries in extreme winter sports. Are the sports inherently dangerous? How do other extreme sports, like surfing and skateboarding, compare?

A study published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine looked at the incidence of head and neck injuries in seven extreme sports – snowboarding, snow skiing, snowmobiling, surfing, skateboarding, mountain biking and motocross. The study is helpful to provide injury data, as these sports often lack the ability for organizing bodies to track participants.

Also read:
Trends in skiing and snowboarding injuries
Was Caleb Moore’s death preventable?

Study on extreme sports injuries

Vinay K. Sharma and other researchers collected injury data in these seven sports from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. They analyzed injuries from patients presenting to United States hospitals between 2000 and 2011. They found some interesting data on head neck injuries in these extreme sports:

• Just over 4 million injuries were reported in the seven sports between 2000 and 2011. 11.3% were head and neck injuries. 83% of these involved the head.
• Head and neck injuries increased significantly over the period studied. 34,565 occurred in 2000, while 40,042 occurred in 2011.
Skateboarding, snowboarding, skiing and motocross had the highest number of head and neck injuries. Mountain biking, snowmobiling, and surfing had the lowest numbers.
Snowboarding had the most concussions. In fact, about 30% of concussions in extreme sports occurred in snowboarding. Snow skiing was associated with about 25% of concussions.
Skateboarding and motocross had the most severe head and neck injuries, like skull fractures and cervical spine fractures.

The dangers of snowmobiling and other extreme sports

Take home points

This study provides important data on the numbers of head and neck injuries in extreme sports. I share this injury information, not to scare people who participate in them, but to serve as a baseline to devise strategies to prevent them.

Also read:
Could Sarah Burke’s fatal injury happen to you?
Stay safe on the slopes

Tips to prevent injuries in extreme sports

Here are some quick tips I would point out to decrease your chances of suffering a head or neck injury:

1. Helmets – Helmets are critical in extreme winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, which account for a significant number of concussions. We will start to see calls for helmet use in surfing and skateboarding as well.
2. Conditions – Do everything possible to optimize your conditions. Watch out for obstacles on the slopes or jumps on the mountains, on the roads or sidewalks, or in the water.
3. Medical coverage – Try to participate in these activities in places where medical care is not far away. Professional competitions have doctors and emergency medical services, but many people perform these activities in remote locations.

Sharma VK, Rango J, Connaughton AJ, Lombardo DJ, Sabesan VJ. The current state of head and neck injuries in extreme sports. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. January 2015 vol. 3 no. 1.