Collisions with other cyclists are major cause of race injuries

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[April 01, 2016]  By Kathryn Doyle

(Reuters Health) – Based on data from northern Belgium, almost one in six non-professional cyclists suffers an accident during a race and colliding with other riders is a major cause.

“Although the number of accidents is quite high, luckily most lesions are minor,” said senior author Dr. Alexander Van Tongel of Ghent University Hospital.

The researchers studied an acute injury registry for the years 2002 and 2012 in Flanders. There were 777 documented reports of accidents with more than 1,000 injuries during non-professional cycling competition.

In 2002, almost 16 percent of registered riders were injured during competition, and 7 percent had more than one accident. About a third of incidents in each year resulted in severe injuries, most commonly injuries of the hand or shoulder.

There were 30 concussions in 2002 and 35 in 2012. In both seasons, colliding with another rider was by far the most frequently reported accident cause, as reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

“What you have to underline is these are competitive injuries,” said Dr. Mark Greve of the Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

“Cycling events overall have a six times higher rate of injuries than normal bike riding in the community.”

Greve cautioned against applying these results to all types of cycling.

Cycling can be beneficial for obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma, among other conditions, so the benefits still outweigh the risks, which are relatively small, Greve told Reuters Health.

“As shown in the study, most injuries are caused by collision with other riders,” Van Tongel said by email. “Although the numbers of races in one year are limited for several age groups, currently the number of participants is not limited.”

“The most important risk is head and severe brain injuries,” he said.

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The International Cycling Union made hard shell helmets compulsory for races in 2003, and several studies confirm the protective effect of wearing a bicycle helmet for injuries of the head and face, he said.

Shoulder injuries, which are also common, usually heal well with conservative treatment but the competitor will be out of competition for several weeks, Van Tongel said.

“In our opinion, it is very important to wear a hard shell helmet,” he said.

“When evaluating competitive races, our data showed that young riders crashed more because of rider related factors as compared to adult riders,” possibly due to lack of experience, he said. “Smaller pelotons and more training on steering skills instead of speed training may be helpful to reduce the risk during competition.”

SOURCE: British Journal of Sports Medicine, online March 11, 2016.

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