Extreme Sports Increase Thrills and Injury Risks

Posted on 3rd August, 2022

Extreme sports have been embraced in the US ever since the advent of the X Games in the mid-1990s, popularizing urban-oriented sports like skateboarding, in-line skating, and BMX biking at an international level and attracting millions of interested enthusiasts.

Over the years, many more summer and winter sports have been designated and promoted as extreme sports, gaining a wider following and greater number of participants. The fast-paced action these disciplines provide may be breathtaking, but it also comes with an increased risk of severe injuries that can affect even the best-trained athletes.

Injuries Among Amateur Enthusiasts

The definition of "extreme sports" usually involves performing complicated maneuvers at high velocities across perilous terrain, steep inclines, and challenging obstacles, requiring rapid reactions and flawless technique to execute safely. An adrenaline-inducing performance may inspire hopefuls to imitate the feats they witness in pursuing similar praise. Still, one thing they may not realize is the high rate of injuries trained professionals experience while honing their skills.

Whether it's skateboarding, snowboarding, surfboarding, or any other extreme sport, the high-speed participants gain during competition and training can reach velocities similar to those that automobile accident victims experience.

During their heyday in the first decade of the 2000s, more than 4 million injuries resulted from extreme sports performed by amateurs in the US. Neck and head injuries increased from 34,000/year in 2000 to more than 40,000/year by 2010, with the sports most affected by this type of injuries (of which 2.5% were categorized as severe) including:

  • Skateboarding - more than 129,000
  • Snowboarding - more than 97,000
  • Skiing - more than 83,000
  • Motocross - more than 78,000

Professionals fall victim to injuries too

Competing at the highest level requires many years of training and active competition, and for extreme sports, it implies a plethora of injuries that naturally come with the territory. Contrary to popular belief, experienced extreme sports athletes are at a greater risk of harm compared to amateurs due to the frequency and intensity of their preparation. They also take progressively higher risks when developing and executing increasingly more elaborate moves or routines.

Another misconception is that extreme sports athletes approach their performances without caring about their well-being. Athletes prepare weeks or months in advance to safely perform death-defying stunts. In 2019, David Rinaldo broke his ankle while perfecting a new motorbike trick that had never been attempted before. A few weeks after his surgery, he won a medal at the X Games and managed to land the novel trick that injured him despite not being 100% recovered.

At the 2008 X Games, Jake Brown fell to the ground from a height of 45 feet after disconnecting from his skateboard mid-flight. The fall fractured his wrist and one vertebra, likewise damaging several organs, but Brown was surprisingly able to stand up and walk off with assistance, although he was also concussed.

One of extreme sports' most recognizable faces is pro-skater Tony Hawk, who has been practicing since early childhood. Ironically, Hawk experienced his first broken bone when he was 30, damaging his elbow while filming a stunt for a commercial, not during competition. In 2022, Hawk broke his femur attempting a trick at the sprightful age of 53 and said he wouldn't stop skating until he was physically unable to.

Reducing risks in extreme sports

More than other sports, "extreme" disciplines often push practitioners to their limits in exceedingly challenging ways that can result in debilitating injuries and occasional fatalities. Eliminating harm in extreme sports altogether is next to impossible, but enthusiasts can prevent serious injuries following a few common-sense guidelines:

  • Choosing the right sport according to one's interests, physical condition, and abilities allows individuals to engage in activities they enjoy and set realistic expectations.
  • Adequate protective gear is vital for every extreme sport to reduce the risk of harm, and individuals should use the best-quality options to ensure their safety.
  • Following experts' advice often means learning how to avoid injuries from someone who experienced his fair share and imparting that knowledge so that others don't have to.
  • Properly warming up and stretching allows athletes to increase their heart rate and loosen muscles, ligaments, and tendons before performing their demanding activities.
  • Starting slow and gradually progressing to more challenging activities allows individuals to avoid preventable injuries through overload, taking a step-by-step approach to improving one's abilities.
  • Knowing your limits and listening to your body is crucial in avoiding fatigue and pain that can affect your performance and bodily integrity.