National event set to raise awareness of TBI in winter sports

January is National Winter Sports Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month. Sponsored by The Johnny O Foundation for Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and TBI Awareness, this national event is set to raise awareness of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in winter sports.

The Brain Trauma Foundation reports that TBI is the leading cause of death and disability in individuals between the ages of 1 and 44. Sports-related injuries, along with motor vehicle accidents and falls from heights, are three of the most common causes of TBIs. Approximately 52,000 people lose their lives each year as a result of a TBI, and an estimated 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related traumatic brain injuries occur each year.

Winter Sports With the Highest Rates of TBI

Downhill skiing, snowboarding, sledding, tubing, snowmobiling, ice hockey, ice skating, cross-country skilling and ice climbing are some of the main winter sports and activities for which Colorado is known. Many of these winter activities have high rates of TBI. In fact, winter sports are listed among the top 10 head injury categories for adults and children (ages 14 and younger).

Here are some facts about winter sports and TBI:

  • Ice hockey actually has a greater rate of head injury than football, as reported by the Foundation for Education and Research in Neurological Emergencies (FERNE). It is estimated that up to 7 percent of all ice hockey players will sustain a concussion or other type of TBI during the course of a single season.
  • Downhill skiing is considered to have the highest rate of catastrophic head injuries, claiming at least 32 lives each year. TBI is among the most critical of injuries sustained in ski slope accidents.
  • Snowboarding is another winter sport with a high rate of TBI. Beginning snowboarders are far more likely than beginning skiers to sustain serious head trauma. One study put the rate of head injury (requiring a visit to the emergency room) for snowboarders at 6.5 per 100,000.
  • Tubing, tobogganing, and acrobatic freestyle skiing account for between 11 and 15 head injuries each year.
  • Snowmobilers are at risk of TBI primarily due to the speed at which they are traveling, weather conditions, visibility, and whether they are wearing protective head gear.
  • Ice climbing is a winter sport that can be very dangerous, particularly for inexperienced climbers. There are no exact statistics on the number of TBIs sustained in this type of winter activity, but falls from heights clearly present a serious risk.

Winter Sports in Colorado: Minimizing TBI Risks

There are certain actions Colorado winter sports enthusiasts can take to minimize TBI risks, including:

  • Skate, ski, or ride in groups or pairs.
  • Wear a helmet (strongly advised for younger children and inexperienced adults).
  • Use proper sports and safety equipment.
  • Make sure children are supervised at all times.
  • Travel at safe speeds.
  • Stay on marked trails and paths.
  • Know your skill level and respect your limitations.
  • Remain alert at all times.

Being aware of the warning signs of concussion or head injury can also help minimize the risk and long-lasting effects these types of injuries can have on individual. Brief periods of unconsciousness, headaches, numbness, confusion, nausea, slurred speech, and decreased coordination or balance are all signs indicating a potential TBI.

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