Study Reveals Horseback Riding as Primary Cause of Sports-Related Traumatic Brain Injuries

horseback riding injuries

As concerns mount over the enduring effects of repeated concussions in contact sports like football and soccer, a new study has shifted attention to an unexpected culprit: horseback riding. Contrary to popular belief, this seemingly serene activity emerges as the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) in sports, surpassing even contact sports like football and soccer.

Published in the journal Neurological Focus, the study scrutinized data from the National Trauma Databank spanning 2003 to 2012. Astonishingly, equestrian sports accounted for a staggering 45.2 percent of TBIs among adults, overshadowing other causes by a significant margin. While contact sports-related falls or impacts followed at 20.2 percent, they paled in comparison to the prevalence of injuries from horseback riding.

Despite the limelight often shining on head injuries in other sports, researchers emphasized the recurrently high risk faced by participants in equestrian activities.

“This finding aligns with prior reports, consistently indicating elevated rates of severe traumatic injuries within equestrian and affiliated sports compared to football, rugby, and skiing,” noted the study’s authors. “When adjusted for activity duration, horseback riding demonstrates a higher rate of hospital admissions than other high-risk pursuits such as motorcycle riding.”

Children and Adolescents Horseback Riding Injuries

A parallel study focusing on children and adolescents underscored falls or impacts during contact sports as the primary cause of TBIs, with equestrian sports ranking third. Analysis of data from the National Sample Program of the National Trauma Data Bank revealed 1,444 incidents of TBI from contact sport falls or impacts, 806 TBIs from skateboarding or rollerskating mishaps, and 427 TBIs attributed to equestrian accidents.

Dr. Ciro Ramos Estebanez, a neurocritical care specialist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center, emphasized the nuanced nature of traumatic brain injuries, particularly in equestrian cases. While such injuries may be less frequent, their severity can be substantial, potentially leading to fractures or intracranial bleeding from a single fall.

“The concern lies not in a series of falls,” Estebanez elucidated, “but rather in the aftermath of a single impact.” He highlighted the persistent symptoms that can ensue, including migraines, cognitive difficulties, headaches, and irritability, underscoring the profound impact of even one brain injury on an individual’s well-being and ability to safely engage in horseback riding.

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