Cycling fuels huge rise in broken necks

Thursday, 8th March 2018, 7:47 am
Updated Thursday, 8th March 2018, 7:47 am

Cycling can be a pain in the neck for middle-aged men in lycra, according to new research

The sport's popularity has fueled a fourfold rise in serious spine injuries, say scientists.

Cycling is now the number one cause of broken necks - overtaking previous common causes like car crashes and diving accidents.

A study of over 50,000 neck injuries found sports-related cervical fractures (More widely known as a broken neck - a catastrophic trauma to any of its seven cervical vertebrae in the neck) have soared by about a third in 15 years - mainly due to cycling.

Cycling has been linked with a host of benefits from keeping people in shape to boosting their hearts and bones.

But it's not so good for the neck, an American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons conference in New Orleans heard.

Number one cause of neck fractures

Dr Mason DePasse, an orthopaedic trauma surgery fellow at Brown University in Rhode Island, said: "Cervical spine injury is a substantial cause of morbidity and mortality, and, as far as injuries go, one of the more devastating injuries that we as orthopaedic surgeons can treat.

"The biggest takeaway was that cycling is the number one cause of neck fractures - which suggests we may need to investigate this in terms of safety."

Sporting activities are the fourth most common cause of cervical spine injury.

But previous studies relied mainly on media reports - resulting in under-reporting.

The American study used data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) which is managed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and collects information on emergency room patients from 100 US hospitals.

This enabled the researchers to estimate the sex-specific incidence of cervical spine injuries in sporting activities and to identify those most commonly associated with neck sprains and cervical fractures.

Dr DePasse said: "There isn't much data available on spine/neck injuries in recreational activities and sports.

"The most recent paper we quoted was from 1991 and looked only at 63 male patients.

"In our study, we were able to sort through more than 50,000 cases by utilising data analytics, which would have been nearly impossible to sift through by hand."

His researchers identified 27,546 patients who sustained a neck injury during a sporting activity.

Sporting-related cervical fractures increased by 30 per cent from 2000 to 2015 - driven by a 300 per cent rise in cycling-related injuries.

Bad news for middle-aged men in lycra (MAMILS)

The incidence of injuries in males was 1.7 times higher for neck sprains and 3.6 times greater for fractures when compared to females.

The most common causes of neck sprains overall were American football, followed by weightlifting/aerobics, cycling, trampoline and diving/swimming.

American Football was the most common cause of cervical sprains in men, followed by cycling and weightlifting/aerobics.

Cycling caused the most fractures in males, followed by diving/swimming and football.

Women experienced the most neck sprains during weightlifting/aerobics, trampoline and cheerleading.

Horseback riding caused the most cervical fractures in females, followed by cycling and diving/swimming.

The team built algorithms involving automated text analysis that went through the patient cases.

Dr DePasse said: "Our diverse team helped us to streamline our research, work faster and ask better questions.

"When we - the orthopaedic surgeons - first looked at the problem, we thought it was impossible due to the sheer volume of cases

"However, one of our team members - who is a medical student and previously worked as an analyst - said it could be done.

"When you have people with cross training and diverse backgrounds, you can often discover a different way of approaching problems."