Trauma surgeons at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary conducted a study into cycling injuries and say the risk of serious injury can be reduced and even prevented by wearing body armour.

The doctors compared injuries between street cyclists and mountain bikers over a 14-year period and looked at incidence, risk factors and injury patterns.

One of the recommendations that came out of the report is that cyclists in both groups should consider wearing chest protection.

The research study was recently published in the Canadian Journal of Surgery and studied 258 severely injured cyclists in southern Alberta.

“Trauma to the head is still the No. 1 injury in both cycling groups, which underscores the importance of wearing a good-quality, properly fitted helmet,” says Dr. Chad Ball, the senior author of the research paper. “At the same time, almost half of the injuries we noted were either to the chest or abdomen, suggesting that greater physical protection in those areas could also help reduce or prevent serious injury.”

The study focused on cyclists who were severely injured between the years of 1995-2009 and were trauma patients admitted to Foothills Medical Centre.

Researchers only included cases that involved severe injuries to more than one area of the body. For example, a cyclist whose only injury was a broken leg would not figure in the study.

During the study period, 209 street cyclists were severely injured compared to 49 mountain cyclists and 16 of 17 fatalities were street cyclists.

“Street cyclists were often injured after being struck by a motor vehicle, but we found mountain bikers fell from embankments, jumps or from other heights,” says Dr. Derek Roberts, lead author of the study, who is a Surgery and Clinician Investigator Program Resident, as well as a PhD candidate at the University of Calgary. “That could be the reason why mountain cyclists experienced more spinal injuries than street cyclists.”

According to the study, injury patterns common to both the street and mountain cyclists are:

  • Trauma to the head (67.4 per cent)
  • Trauma to extremities (38.4 per cent)
  • Chest trauma (34.1 per cent)
  • Trauma to face (26 per cent)
  • Trauma to abdomen (10.1 per cent)

Researchers were unable to say whether the number of head injuries is due to a lack of helmet use because helmet use is not consistently recorded in the trauma registry.

Other findings include:

  • Mountain bikers incurred more spinal injuries - (65.3 per cent) compared to street cyclists (41.1 per cent).
  • The average age of injured mountain cyclists is 28.
  • The average age of injured street cyclists is 43.
  • 86.4 per cent of all cycling patients are male.
  • Most injuries occur in the summer months.
  • Mountain bikers are admitted to hospital more commonly on the weekends at 61.2 per cent versus 45 per cent for street cyclists.

Researchers recommend cyclists wear body armour in addition to a helmet to reduce the risk of serious injury from crashes and collisions and say many specialized bike shops now carry a variety of protective vests which provide a mix of padding and hard-shell coverage.

For more information on the study, visit the University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine website.