Downhill Mountain Biking Injuries: By the Numbers

Jun 7, 2012
Outside Magazine

Shutterstock_3204886A little air. Photo: Shutterstock

What are the most common injuries for downhill mountain bikers? A new study published in Wilderness and Environmental Medicine takes a crack at answering that question by examining the cases from one emergency clinic near the Whistler Mountain Bike Park.

The park has three lifts that offer access to 45 trails with more than 155 miles and 3,800 vertical feet of riding. Helmets are mandatory. Five-year-olds planning to hit the dirt can forget about it. The minimum age requirement is six. There are ramps that easily allow riders to jump eight feet in the air and soar distances of more than 10 feet. There are rocks and roots for rumbling over. All of these obstacles are also great, of course, for biting it.

When athletes injure themselves, they often head to the nearby Whistler Health Care Centre. "We chose Whistler for a host of reasons," says one of the study's authors, Dr. Mary Pat McKay of George Washington University. "But primarily because there is really only one local medical clinic; this made data collection fairly comprehensive."

The clinic gave McKay, lead author Zachary Ashwell, and colleagues injury data from the 2009 season—which ran from mid-May to mid-October. Those people who were airlifted out of the park or went home thinking things "weren't that bad" were not included in this study. In total, 910 cases were catalogued. Twelve of those visits were excluded from the results because the injuries did not come directly from riding—think bee stings. Here's what the remaining 898 cases revealed, by the numbers.

86 percent, or 772 of the patients, were male.

26 was the median age of the patients.

August had the most visits, with 35 percent of all injury cases.

1 to 4 p.m. was the most popular time to check into the clinic, with 52 percent of total visits represented.

4: The number of visits that resulted from bike-to-bike or person-to-bike collisions. (The remaining visits were the result of the rider falling while riding.)

445 fractures were identified in 382 patients. Fractures were the most common injury and the breaks occurred mostly in the shoulders (122), wrists (109), and hands and fingers (49).

101 individuals had a traumatic brain injury.

5 percent of the Whistler Medical Clinic's visits came from injuries suffered at the park. The clinic is open year round. The park is open for five months of the year.

—Joe Spring

Filed To: Biking, Fitness

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