Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Paddling and Mountain Bike Injuries

In the most recent issue of Wilderness & Environmental Medicine appear two articles on topics related to wilderness injuries epidemiology. The first is an article by David Abraham and colleagues, entitled “The Hawkesbury Canoe Classic: Musculoskeletal Injury Surveillance and Risk Factors Associated with Marathon Paddling" (WEM 2012;23:133). The second is an article by Zachary Ashwell and colleagues, entitled “The Epidemiology of Mountain Bike Park Injuries at Whistler Bike Park, British Columbia (BC), Canada" (WEM 2012;23:140).

The reason to undertake epidemiological studies of injuries in outdoor settings is to better understand the risks, and what is likely to occur. That enables planners and rescuers to better do their jobs – posting warnings, educating the public, stashing equipment, and training rescue and medical personnel. In the first study, not surprisingly, the injuries associated with paddling involved the shoulder, thoracic (chest portion) spine, and lumbar (lower) spine. No unique news here.

In the second study, there were lots of broken bones, particularly of the upper extremities, and a fair number of brain injuries. The latter occurred despite a mandatory helmet requirement. It was not determined if there were problems with the helmets (e.g., too loose, fell off, cracked). This is intriguing, but not entirely unexpected, particularly for those of us who see bicyclists who have concussions or worse in an urban setting despite wearing helmets. Helmets protect only to a certain degree. But remember, they are certainly better than nothing.

I would like to see every epidemiology study published made more relevant by making suggestions about the meaning of the data. Are certain activities, trails, rivers, or other specific locations commonly the sites for injury? What can be done to protect the participants? Is riding or paddling too fast or too slow cause for concern?


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Tags: Staying Safe

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.