Injury risk is high for downhill mountain bikers, but could be reduced by ensuring trails are in good condition and improving rider technique, say researchers.
They add that wearing good quality protective equipment can also help minimize the risk for injury.
As a result of the increasing popularity of downhill mountain biking around the world, Johannes Becker (Paracelsus Medical University, Salzburg, Austria) and colleagues carried out a survey of riders over the April-September 2011 summer season to assess frequency, types, and causes of injury sustained.
Overall, 249 bikers from Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Austria were surveyed. The mean age was 23.5 years, and ranged from 14 to 53 years. The standard of the riders was generally high, with three beginners, 62 advanced, 157 expert, and 27 professional riders taking part in the study.
Writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Becker and team report that there were 494 injuries during 29,401 hours of riding time - 65% mild (no disruption in riding), 22% moderate (slight sports restriction required for recovery), and 13% severe (disruption or total restriction of sports participation required). This translated to an overall injury rate of 16.8 injuries per 1000 hours of riding.
The most common injury sites were the lower leg, forearm, and knee, at 27%, 25%, and 21%, respectively. The most common forms of injuries were abrasions (n=316) and contusions (n=279).
Most self reported causes of injury were riding errors, at 72%, followed by bad trail condition, at 31%.
Of note, there was a significant difference in rate of injury between experts and professionals, with professionals having a 34% lower rate than experts, at 13.4 versus 17.9 injuries per 1000 hours of riding. This is likely to reflect the greater skill level of the professional riders at avoiding injury.
"Downhill biking can be considered as an extreme sport with a high risk of injury," write the authors. "More attention should be paid on local trail conditions, considering bad weather as well as routine checking of the trails for unwanted obstacles."
They add that professional instruction courses can help riders improve their technique and suggest that "the use of protective equipment should be more encouraged."
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