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Mountain Bike-Related Injuries Fall 56 Percent

The number of mountain-bike related injuries fell 56% over the 14 year period from 1994 to 1997, but still resulted in an average of over 15,000 injuries per year serious enough to require emergency room treatment, says a new study to be published in the February 2011 edition of the American Journal of Sports Medicine.Mountain biker heads down course

Mountain biking, also known as off-road biking, is a great way to stay physically active while enjoying nature and exploring the outdoors. The good news is that mountain biking-related injuries have decreased, from a high of more than 23,000 injuries in 1995 to just over 10,000 injuries in 2007.

"The large decline we found in mountain bike-related injuries is likely due to a combination of factors," said Lara McKenzie, PhD, principal investigator at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and co-author of the new study.

"While some of the decline may be explained by a decrease in the number of people riding mountain bikes, there have also been a number of improvements to the bicycle design, such as disc brakes and dual-suspension systems, that give the rider greater control of the bike and may help to reduce the incidence of injuries,"  said Dr. McKenzi.

Injuries by the numbers

The most frequent types of injuries were

  • fractures (27 percent);
  • soft tissue injuries (24 percent); and
  • lacerations (21 percent).

The most commonly injured body parts were:

  • the upper extremities (27 percent);
  • shoulder and clavicle (20 percent); and
  • and the lower extremities (20 percent).
Falls (70 percent) or being thrown off the bike (14 percent) were the most common mechanisms of injury. 

Several differences in injury patterns were found among subgroups:

  • Girls suffer more serious injuries than boys.  While the majority of injuries overall were sustained by boys and men, girls and women were more likely to sustain an injury severe enough to require hospitalization.
  • Teens at higher risk of traumatic brain injury. Bikers aged 14 to 19 years sustained twice as many traumatic brain injuries than bikers of other ages. 

Cause for concern

"While the number of mountain bike-related injuries has decreased, they continue to be a concern," said Dr. McKenzie, also a faculty member at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. "The gender and age differences we found represent opportunities to further reduce injuries through focused injury prevention and increasing use of protective equipment."

This is the first study to examine a nationally representative sample of mountain bike-related injuries treated in U.S. emergency departments. Further research in necessary to thoroughly understand mountain bike-related injuries and the role injury prevention intervention can play in reducing them. 

Data for this study were collected from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), which is operated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The NEISS dataset provides information on consumer product-related and sports and recreation-related injuries treated in hospital emergency departments across the country.

Sources: Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital; Nelson N, McKenzie L, "Mountain Biking-Related Injuries Treated in Emergency Room Departments in the United States, 1994-2007"  Am. J. Sports Med. 2011; 39(2): 404-409.

Created February 5, 2011