Safety vests reduce injury rate among show jumpers, study finds

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"There should be an extension of the general helmet requirement and a requirement to wear safety vests in show jumping in general," the researchers said.
The study showed that most riders never or only occasionally wore a safety vest, citing a limited range of motion, sweating and aesthetics as the reason. Photo by Autumn Addition

German show jumpers of all levels who often or always wore a safety vest had a significantly lower injury rate than those who went without, research has shown.

“Based on the present results, there should be an extension of the general helmet requirement and a requirement to wear safety vests in show jumping in general,” Heinz-Lothar Meyer and his fellow researchers reported in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

The study team set out to explore sport-specific injury patterns in show jumping in Germany. A total of 363 show jumpers of all levels answered a retrospective questionnaire about injuries and overuse problems that occurred during the course of their careers.

Demographic data and information on injuries to various body regions were collected. For better statistical comparability with other sports, exposure time was extrapolated with total career duration and weekly training hours, and injuries per 1000 jumping hours were calculated.

The study group comprised 251 women – representing 69% of all participants – and 112 men. Their average age was 26.9.

The injury rate for all respondents was found to be 3.7 per 1000 hours of exposure. The most frequently affected body region was the head, which was involved in 31% of injuries. Overuse complaints played a lesser role and mostly affected the upper extremities.

Riders in the professional lower performance levels were found to be less likely to injure themselves per 1000 hours than riders at higher performance levels.

“Riders who often or always wore a helmet suffered significantly fewer head injuries and had a significantly lower total injury duration than riders who did not wear a helmet,” the authors reported. In addition, those who wore helmets reported a significantly lower total injury duration (15.1 days) compared to riders without helmets (26.2 days).

The researchers said that riders in the study who often or always wore a safety vest suffered significantly fewer spinal injuries.
The researchers said that riders in the study who often or always wore a safety vest suffered significantly fewer spinal injuries. Photo by Myprofe

“Similarly, the study showed that riders who often or always wore a safety vest suffered significantly fewer spinal injuries and had significantly fewer injuries per 1000 riding hours than riders who did not wear a safety vest.”

On average, each athlete had to take a break of 6.7 weeks in total during their jumping careers because of injuries. The longest downtime reported by one rider was 214 weeks.  Each rider had to take, on average, an injury-related break of half a week per career year.

Spinal injuries accounted for the greatest time off, at 27.3% of total downtime. Lower leg and foot injuries accounted for 15.6% of downtime, and knee injuries for 14.5%. Combined, the knee and lower leg injuries amounted to nearly a third of all injury time off.

In descending order, shoulder injuries (11.4%), pelvic and thigh injuries (10%) and head injuries (9.2%) were similarly likely to trigger riding breaks. Hand (7.4%) and elbow injuries (4.5%) accounted for the lowest percentage of all injury-related breaks.

Of the 363 jumpers surveyed, 86 of them, or just under a quarter, reported that they never or only occasionally wore a helmet, while just over three-quarters – 277 riders – said they often or always wore a helmet. The riders with helmets had suffered, on average, 4.7 head injuries in their careers, while riders without helmets had suffered an average of 9.1 head injuries.

In terms of the total number of injuries per 1000 hours of riding, no significant difference was shown between the groups of riders with and without helmets.

Always or often wearing a safety vest was reported by 50 of the riders (14%), while 313 (86%) never or only occasionally wore one. Reasons given for infrequent use included a limited range of motion, sweating and aesthetic reasons.

Riders with safety vests suffered an average of 2.9 spinal injuries in their career, while those without safety vests suffered an average of 4.7 spinal injuries. The authors characterized the difference as significant. “In the total number of injuries per 1000 riding hours, riders without a safety vest also had significantly more injuries than riders with a safety vest.”

The study team noted that a general recommendation for the wearing of safety vests has not yet been made. The findings of the study and their implications should be discussed in the broadest context possible, they said.

The authors said they were able to obtain a good overview of injuries and overuse injuries in show jumping. The injury rate in show jumping was higher than in comparable studies on equestrian sports, they noted, but lower than in other pursuits such as contact sports.

In general, the results confirm the safety benefits from the introduction of mandatory helmet use in showjumping contests, they said. “However, based on the present results, there should be an extension of the general helmet requirement and a requirement to wear safety vests in show jumping in general. According to the present study, this could prevent many injuries in showjumping.”

The study team comprised Meyer, Philip Scheidgen, Christina Polan, Paula Beck, Bastian Mester, Marcel Dudda and Manuel Burggraf, all with the Department of Trauma, Hand and Reconstructive Surgery at the University Hospital Essen in Germany; and Max Daniel Kauther, with the Department of Trauma Surgery, Orthopedics and Pediatric Orthopedics at Agaplesion Diakonieklinikum Rotenburg.

Meyer, H.-L.; Scheidgen, P.; Polan, C.; Beck, P.; Mester, B.; Kauther, M.D.; Dudda, M.; Burggraf, M. Injuries and Overuse Injuries in Show Jumping—A Retrospective Epidemiological Cross-Sectional Study of Show Jumpers in Germany. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2022, 19, 2305. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19042305

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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