When we talk about brain injuries in sports, most people think about football, or possibly hockey. Maybe if you are more of a traditionalist you think of boxing, where chronic traumatic encephalopathy first started being recognized. These sports stay at the heart of the conversation of how to protect athlete’s brains.
Despite this, a new study published in the journal Neurological Focus, says none of these sports are responsible for causing the most traumatic brain injuries. In fact, the sport which causes the most cases of TBI isn’t even a contact sport. It is horseback riding.
According to data collected from the National Trauma Databank between 2003 and 2012, equestrian sports was by far the source of the highest percentage of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in adults.
Nearly half (45.2%) of the TBI cases in the database were related to horseback riding, absolutely dwarfing contact sports related TBI’s which made up just 20.2 percent of TBIs.
While this may be surprising if you’ve been following the news about brain injuries in the NFL, the researchers are sure to point out that equestrian sports have consistently been the highest risk for dangerous brain injuries compared to other sports.
“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,” research authors said in a study. “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.”
Meanwhile, a second study which focused on brain injuries in children and adolescents found falls or hits during a contact sport were the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries. In this study, using data from the National Sample Program of the National Trauma Data Bank, equestrian sports ranked third in the leading causes of TBI.