Snow-boarders risk serious spine injuries

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Amateur snow-boarders who try to catch some air can put themselves at risk of paralyzing spinal cord injuries, warn researchers.

In a study of 18 snow-boarders treated at their hospital for spinal cord injuries, Japanese doctors found that failed jumps were the cause in most cases. Nearly all patients were young men who considered their skill level to be intermediate or “expert,” but none had ever received formal instruction in snow-boarding.

Although spinal cord injuries are relatively rare compared with less severe snow-boarding mishaps, such as wrist and shoulder injuries, they can be devastating should they occur.

Most amateur snow-boarders probably aren’t aware that the risk exists, study co-author Dr. Kazu Matsumoto, of Gifu University School of Medicine, told Reuters Health.

“It is fundamentally important that snow-boarders, especially young men, be made aware of the spinal injury risk associated with jumping,” Matsumoto and his colleagues write in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

The researchers based their findings on a review of more than 15,000 snow-boarding injuries treated at their center over 10 years. Of these patients, 512 sustained a spinal fracture and 18 patients had a fracture plus spinal cord injury that caused a loss of movement or sensation.

Of these 18 patients, a failed jump was to blame in 15 cases, the researchers found, while falls caused the remaining 3 injuries.

Because snow-boarding is considered a recreational activity, and people often take it on without any professional lessons, many snow-boarders may not think of it as a risky pursuit, according to Matsumoto.

There is protective gear available to shield the spine from a snow-boarding fall — such as padding that’s strapped on underneath the clothes, but none of the patients in this study was wearing any, the researchers note.

If snow-boarders are aware of the spinal injury risk, Matsumoto said, maybe more will strap on a helmet and spinal protector.

By Amy Norton

SOURCE: American Journal of Sports Medicine, October 2006.

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