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Risk of head injuries highest among FIS World Cup freestyle riders


A new long-term study over 7 seasons among the world's best ski and snowboard athletes , led by the International Ski Federation FIS and the Oslo Sports Trauma Research Center, reveals that the risk of contracting a serious head injury is high.


These startling findings were recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.


Previous studies have shown that head injuries account for 10-13% of all injuries in the FIS World Cup (WC) disciplines alpine, snowboard and freestyle. It has been unknown whether the incidence is different for men and women or between sports.


The purpose of the current study, led by physiotherapist and PhD-candidate Sophie Steenstrup was to describe the incidence of head injuries in the FIS World Cup alpine skiing, snowboarding and freestyle.


7 World Cup seasons - 12% head injuries


Injuries were registered through the well-established FIS injury surveillance system (FIS ISS): retrospective athlete interviews at the end of 7 WC seasons (2006-2013).


Any injury that occurred during competition or training during the season and caused supervision by medical personnel was included.


Injury incidence is described as the number of injuries per 100 athletes (absolute injury incidence) and the number of injuries per 1000 competition rounds (relative injury incidence).



Freestyle athletes at highest risk - double the risk for women as for men


A total of 2,080 injuries were reported during the 7 WC seasons and 245 (12%) of these were head/face injuries.


More than 4 out of 5 incidents were concussions (82%), of which 58 (24%) were so severe that the athlete could not train or compete for more than a month.


The risk of incurring a head injury was 2 times higher among freestyle skiing athletes compared to snowboard or alpine skiing athletes, as measured per 1,000 competitive rounds.



Combination of high speed and jumps

In freestyle, all disciplines – aerials, big air/half pipe, ski cross, include spectacular jumps, which the authors believe contribute to the high injury incidence. The freestyle discipline “Aerials” represents the highest head injury incidence. “Aerials” combines high speed with high jumps, where the athletes run into the jump at around 70 km/h and perform jumps of 2-4 m height.


On the whole in freestyle skiing, alpine skiing and snowboarding, women had a 50% higher injury rates compared with men during the season (per 100 athletes).


A future goal of the authors is to conduct video analysis of different head trauma situations to better understand how head injuries occur.


The study was led by PhD-candidate Sophie Steenstrup together with Tone Bere and supervisor Roald Bahr.


Download the article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.