Posted on Oct 27, 2023, 6 p.m.
The risk of serious injury from most exercise is astonishingly small, according to the results of a five-year study published in the BMJ journal Injury Prevention carried out by researchers at the University of Bath. The study shows that even forms of sport that are sometimes considered to be risky such as road cycling, are generally safe, reinforcing that the benefits of taking part in fitness activities far outweigh the dangers.
This study attempted to describe and quantify the relative risks of trauma resulting from sports or some other form of physical activity in hopes of making it easier for participants and organizers to make their pursuits safer for all. For this study, the researchers utilized data from hospitals nationwide in which participants in sports and exercise presented themselves with major trauma.
“This work demonstrates that engaging in fitness activities is overwhelmingly a safe and beneficial pursuit,” said Dr Sean Williams, a researcher at the Department for Health and the Centre for Health and Injury and Illness Prevention at the University of Bath, and principal investigator of the study. “While no physical activity is entirely without risk, the chance of serious injury is exceedingly low when compared to the myriad health and wellness advantages gained from staying active.”
This analysis revealed that in the UK, between 2010 and 2017 a total of 11,702 trauma injuries resulted from sports and exercise. The researchers examined 61 sports and other physical activities, irrespective of their popularity, and provided a comparable estimate of risk to participants.
Fitness activities such as golf, dancing, gym sessions, and running were found to be the least likely pursuits to result in injury. Running results in 0.70 injuries annually, golf results in 1.25 injuries, and fitness classes result in 0.10 injuries per 100,000 participants/year.
Among sports with the highest level of participation, football had the highest injury incident rate, reaching 6.56 injuries per 100,000 participants/year, but even this number is relatively small.
More adventurous pursuits like motorsports, equestrian activities, paragliding and hang gliding (gliding) were the riskiest activities studied. Motorsports result in 532 injuries, equestrian activities result in 235 injuries, and gliding results in 191 injuries per 100,000 participants/year.
It also appears as if men get injured more than women, the male incidence of injury is 6.4 injuries per 100,000 participants/year, and the female incidence of injury is 3.3 injuries per 100,000 participants annually. Even these numbers are both relatively small.
However, more concerningly, injury risk for popular sports and other physical activities appears to be increasing internationally. For example, in Victoria, Austria the annual rate of hospital-treated sports injuries climbed by 24% between 2004 and 2010 with the incidence of sports-related major trauma or death of 12.2 per 100,00 participants/year. This trend is also being mirrored in the UK with data from one regional trauma and spine unit identifying an almost 500% increase in the incidence of serious motorsports accidents from 2010 to 2015, according to the researchers.
“When I looked at the injuries recorded in 2012 – the year the study started – it was clear that the risks were considerably lower than they were in later years of the study,” said Dr Madi Davies, the study’s lead author and former post-doctoral researcher at the University of Bath.
“Though the finding that more people are getting injured could be multifaceted – trauma data recording has improved during the study, which means more injuries are now recorded – it’s important that any increases in burden are responded to, and that this data is used to make activities safer,” added Davies.
“Many sport and recreation injuries are preventable,” said Dr Williams. “Whether that be through protective equipment, rule or law changes, or education, once we identify how and where injuries are occurring, we can start to think about ways to prevent them in each sport.”
An example of where recording injuries to identify trends/patterns is already happening relates to trampoline safety. Sales skyrocketed from 2005 and by 2014 over 250,000 were sold in the UK. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), working with the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, identified a surge in trampoline-related injuries, which resulted in recommendations being issued for improving safety ranging from limiting use to one person at a time to keeping children under the age of 6 off them, and buying safety nets to enclose the trampolines. Additionally, manufacturers had to meet increased safety standards such as adding more padding, and commercial partners had to improve safety at trampoline parks. Meeting the RoSPA guidance resulted in serious accidents significantly decreasing.
While the risk of injury may be low, the risk is still there. Always wear the applicable safety equipment, and take steps to ensure the safety of the environment that you will be in. Prevention is your friend.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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