Philly Doctors Study Skateboarding

A study released by researchers at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) last fall and published in the October 2002 issue of UC Davis’ medical Journal of Trauma indicates skateboard-related head injuries have doubled in recent years.

The hospital’s public-relations department announced in a press release, the publishing of the study, which some of skateboarding’s cynics have considered misinformed and misleading, saying that many of the researchers’ key findings were omitted. One point the study attempts to make is that an increase in number of injuries is attributed to the growth in popularity of street skating as opposed to vert. The study’s researchers admitted to SKATE Biz that the research was obtained between 1993 and 1998.

Authors of the study are CHOP Doctors Flaura Koplin Winston, MD, Ph.D, who holds a medical degree in pediatrics and biomechanical engineering; and Michael Nance, an MD and associate director of trauma.

“Since this paper was written, the number of skateboarders has increased significantly—it’s doubled,” says Dr. Winston.

“It’s still a relatively safe sport. We’ve seen a lot of injuries. The rates have gone up just a tad, but it’s not that much. We have twice as many people skateboarding today than we had before.” A common reaction amongst skateboarders is that the study fails to recognize street and vert skating as two seperate entities, making it difficult to draw parallels between the two types of skating.

The hospital’s press release states: “The rate of skateboard-related injuries doubled between 1993 and 1998.” And the published study in the Journal of Trauma claims, “A significant portion of the injuries might have been prevented by avoiding skateboarding in the streets and by using basic safety equipment.”

According to Dr. Winston, the main people who conducted the analyses are at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). “It (the study) was reviewed by them before it came out,” she says. “Kyle and George Rutherford are both CPSC employees—so they have a long history of understanding risks to skateboarding, in-line skating, and bicycling.”

Suzanne Hill is a public-relations representative at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She explains that while the doctors had been researching the issue for some time, none of their research on the topic was published prior to this particular study. “They (Doctors Nance and Winston) went into the study looking at all participation-based sports—and then they zeroed in on skateboarding because of the alarming trends.

As far as we know, it’s the first national study of participation sports (done) this way, examining based estimates of injuries associated with common sports,” says Hill. Early on the study notes skateboard injuries are twice as high as in-line skating’s, but only half as high as basketball injuries, which top the list.

According to Hill, the study takes the growth in participation numbers into consideration and weighs it appropriately. “Basically, what they (the researchers) solved,” she says, “is that the trend in skateboard injuries is still there after taking into account that there are more people coming into the sport.”

According to Hill, before this study most sports-injury rates were determined on the basis of estimates for injury within the general population. She explains the formula used by researchers to draw their conclusions: “Our study has built on the previous work related to sports injuries by taking into account a denominator that reflects the population involved in the activity—participation-based injury rates.” Adding, “I do know that the doctors have formulas for determining this information.”

In an exclusive conversation with SKATE Biz, Dr. Winston discussed the real methodological advance to the study as being able to take into account how people are skateboarding by using the National Sporting Goods Asssociation’s (NSGA) survey. “They gave us information about how many people participated in the sport—when we looked at the number of people—basically, let’s say it’s twice as many as ten years ago,” says Winston. “What we get from the study is that skateboarding is half as dangerous as cycling and twice as dangerous as in-line skating. When we look at specific risks—it’s people skateboarding in traffic.”

Asked if she agrees that traffic in relation to most things, such as pedestrians, cyclists, and so forth, all present an equal risk, Winston is quick to agree. “The whole point is that there has been a shift, a change in the sport,” she says. “To be honest with you, I never saw this study as being something against skateboarding.

I thought that this paper could be something very helpful in getting skateparks. What we need to do is to get them (skateboarders) into a safe, supervised place where they can skateboard. If you wear a helmet and don’t skateboard in the street, that makes it even safer. If you look at the sport, it’s relatively safe.

“If you look at the number of injuries occurring, it doesn’t say anything about how safe the sport is—the only way to determine that is to look at participation-based rates, and that’s how we can look at relative safety.” To determine participation-based rates, you simply take the total estimated number of skateboarders and divide it by the total estimated number of injuries, and that’s what gives you the participation-based rates of injury.

Winston, a mother of young skateboarders, is supportive and optimistic about the sport. She seems excited by how influenced her kids are by pro skateboarders: “The young guys are influenced by them. I took my kids to the X-Games. Tony Hawk was wearing the protective gear, but some of them (skaters) weren’t. These guys (are) all amazing skateboarders, and the kids really look up to them and are influenced by them. So if (the pro) skaters are going to wear protective gear, then the kids will see that. If, say, five percent of the skateboard-related injuries treated in the ER (emergency room) are head injuries—then that’s something to think about.”

Skateboarding is a very unconventional sport when compared to others, such as basketball, hockey, or tennis—sports that are played within defined parameters. Skateboarding is based more on individual creativity and skill and their application of that to their urban or chosen environment. Its gratification is based solely and most importantly on personal skill and development. So in essence it’s inherently abstract and relative in its nature to the individual’s approach and perspective.

According to IASC (International Association of Skateboard Companies) statistics, there are 32-million skateboarders worldwide, of which sixteen-million are in the United States, and half of them—eight-million—in California.