Skateboarding Safer than Basketball

Recently, I’ve been asked by several patients about the potential injuries that might occur as a result of Billings’ new skateboard park. As orthopedists, we have always assumed that skateboarding was a high-risk activity, based on the number of patients who show up in the emergency department with injuries.

Recently, I’ve been asked by several patients about the potential injuries that might occur as a result of Billings’ new skateboard park. As orthopedists, we have always assumed that skateboarding was a
high-risk activity, based on the number of patients who show up in the emergency department with injuries.

The difficult thing, however, is to quantify how much risk any particular activity has. For instance, it would be nice if we knew the exact risk of wrecking a motorcycle during a motocross race, or of
breaking your pelvis during a horseback ride.

We all suspect these are dangerous activities, but given the level of scientific study available, and the complexity of each of these events (how long was the ride, where was it, what was the weather, etc) we probably will never have a definite understanding of the risk involved with these activities.

That being said, I did some research about skateboarding injuries and came to these conclusions:

The best research which quantifies risk of skateboarding comes from the Journal of Trauma, Oct. 2002, and is written by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. They determined the number of skateboarding injuries per active skateboarder and compared those numbers to in-line skating and basketball. Skateboarding had an injury rate of 8.9 per 1,000 participants. In-line skating was 3.9/1,000 and basketball produced 21.2 ER-treated injuries per 1,000 players. Statistically, skateboarding is safer than playing basketball.

A study done at Montana State University-Bozeman in 1996 gives us a good characterization of these injuries. Most injuries were in boys ages 10-14 years – not surprising, as that illustrates the typical skateboarder. Thirty-three percent of the injuries happened during the first week of skateboarding. Wrist, arm or ankle fractures account for 50 percent of injuries.

The remainder are sprains, contusions and, rarely, a severe injury such as head or neck injury. Skateboarding on public streets or adjacent to traffic is more dangerous and can produce serious injuries due to collision with motor vehicles.

Skateboarders rarely use protective equipment such as helmets and wrist guards. If we compare that to in-line skaters, however, studies suggest these two protective devices would decrease the rate of injury and perhaps the severity (a sprain vs. fracture).

My own experience with skateboarding injuries suggests it is very similar to snowboarding, with broken or sprained wrists the most common injury.

In comparison, the most common basketball injury is an ankle sprain, followed by knee ligament injuries and ankle fractures.

In summary, I now plan to tell my patients that skateboarding IS a dangerous activity. The most likely significant injury is a fractured wrist. The overall risk is less than playing basketball, and is probably similar to riding a bicycle or snowboarding (depending on how many risks or tricks are attempted).

Wearing wrist guards and a helmet can significantly reduce the risk of injury. The potential benefit from the skateboard park is that it will shift riders from the sidewalks and streets to the park, and there will be fewer falls due to surface irregularity.

Dr. Michael Yorgason is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with additional fellowship training in foot and ankle surgery. He practices at Montana Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, PC.

Reprinted from the Billings Gazette