Since 2000, more than 4 million injuries have been attributed to extreme sports. The X Games, and all that they entail, have given a prominent stage to the thrill-seeking athlete. New winter and summer X Games are being invented and perfected at an exponential pace. These trends are pushing the envelope for youth athletes interested in competing in a sport with an understood elevated level of risk. The primary goal of the development of extreme sports is to elevate the excitement level of the competition. While safety is always a concern when participating in sports, the excitement goal is dramatically outpacing safety.
As of 2014, there are over 40,000 head and neck injuries attributed annually to extreme sports. One out of every 10 injuries, occurring in extreme sports, involves the head or neck. Nearly 90% of those injuries include head trauma. Statistically, there is no other sport that produces those kind of injury numbers.
When combining winter and summer extreme sports, skateboarding proved to be the most dangerous, with snowboarding coming in a close second. With over 7 million US snowboarders participating in the sport, the head and neck injury statistics are quite daunting. Add to this, the fact that the majority of the participants are under legal age and male, and it becomes a significant issue.
Dr. Vani Sabesan, an assistant professor in the department of orthopedic surgery at Western Michigan University School of Medicine in Kalamazoo, Mich. was quoted as saying “We have very young kids, and they’re getting younger all the time, going 60 miles an hour down a ski hill, so, the risk for life-altering accidents is real and serious.”
Dr. Sabesan went on to say “Certainly, some sports have a higher risk for neck fractures, and others for concussion, but in general we need to make sure protective equipment is available — such as helmets and wrist guards — and encouraged. And we need to make sure we provide medical care and team doctors on site, and that kids know that it’s possible to get a concussion when doing these sports and are encouraged to seek medical help when there’s any concern.”
Though not surprising, the number of head and neck injuries is concerning. When dealing with the factors involved in extreme sports–height, high levels of speed, young athletes and the propensity for controllable situations to become uncontrollable very rapidly, education of these athletes, to the involved risk, is mandatory. Not only do parents need to make hard calls on whether or not their children are physically and emotionally mature enough to participate at this level, they also have to be willing to enforce the rules with a hard line stance and consequences, if the rules are broken.
In addition, it is important that young athletes realize they are not going to be able to pull off a move they may see when watching extreme sports. Bottom line – education!