Horseback Riding is Top Cause of Sports-Related Brain Injury

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When you think about sports that pose a risk of traumatic brain injury, horseback riding probably isn’t what comes to mind. But a recent study shows that equestrian activities are far more likely to cause brain injury than any contact sport.

Brain injury is big news lately. The movie Concussion and all the media coverage of the NFL’s cover up of CTE among football players have made parents of student-athletes sit up and take notice.

But a new study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery suggests society may still be wearing blinders about the biggest risk of brain injury: horseback riding. The study by Dr. Ethan Winkler, of the Department of Neurological Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, showed that equestrian accidents caused far more traumatic brain injury than any traditional contact sport.

Looking at data from the National Trauma Databank between 2003 and 2012, researchers found horseback riding caused 45.2% of sport-related brain injuries among adults. When the researchers combined all contact sports, like football and soccer, only added up to 20.2% of TBI cases.

Horseback riding accidents are all too common among children too. According to another study, Equestrian accidents were the third-highest cause of sports-related accidents among children and teens, after contact sports and skateboarding or rollerskating. The National Sample Program showed 427 childhood horseback riding injuries among non-adults.

Horseback Riding Causes More Serious Brain Injury

While contact sports get attention because of the risk of repetitive head injury, equestrian creates a higher risk of one life-changing crash. Researchers involved in the adult study said:

“This finding is consistent with those in previous reports indicating greater rates of severe traumatic injury in equestrian and related sports than in other sports including football, rugby, and skiing. . . . One report found that, when normalized for hours of activity, horseback riding results in a higher rate of hospital admission than other high-risk activities such as motorcycle riding.”

Dr. Ciro Ramos Estebanez, a neuro critical care specialist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center agreed, telling ABC News:

“I would be more afraid about one single fall that would start a fracture … or bleeding in brain.”

A serious brain injury can change your life. Many horseback riders ignore the risks and ride without a helmet. But by doing so, they take the chance that one fall off a horse will be their last. Riders should take every fall seriously. Whether your horse throws you, or you are hit by a car while riding along the road, always see a doctor before climbing back on. Timely brain injury screening will prevent secondary injury and make sure you are able to ride again.

David Christensen is a brain injury expert at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. If you or a loved one has suffered a brain injury involving a motor vehicle, contact Christensen Law today to schedule a consultation.