A Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) study has identified, for the first time, the types of injuries incurred in unicycle accidents in the United States. The report, published in The Journal of Emergency Medicine, revealed that fractures are the most common unicycle injuries and young teenagers are more likely to get hurt than any other age group. However, these injuries rarely require hospitalization.
“My 11-year-old daughter is all into things circus-related and figured out how to ride a unicycle at 7. She has always worn a helmet, but none of her peers or her coaches/instructors advocated wearing a helmet,” says Marvin L. Wang, MD, Co-Director, Neonatology - Newborn Services at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, who led the study. “This study sets the stage to ask the question about whether or not helmets are actually needed while unicycling.”
Unicycles first appeared in the late 18th century, but riding unicycles has boomed in popularity, particularly over the last 10 years. What used to be isolated within the circus domain is now practiced by lots of people around the nation, from unicycle conventions and races to training centers like the “Montpelier Unicyclists” in Vermont.
The retrospective study was conducted using data collected from 1991 through 2011 by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), a sample of approximately 100 emergency departments in the United States that report consumer-related injuries to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
During the 20-year study period, there were an estimated 3,360 patients treated for unicycle injuries, averaging 168 injuries per year. Of those patients, young teenagers (10 to 14 years) were more likely to be injured on unicycles than any other age group, accounting for 40 percent of the injuries. More than 60 percent of the patients were male, and 42 percent of injuries occurred at home. Almost 33 percent of injuries were fractures, making them the most common type of injury overall, followed by strains and sprains at 28 percent. There were six documented head or neck injuries, all of which occurred among patients younger than 18 years of age. Only three 3 injuries -- all of which were fractures -- required admission to a hospital.
“It might seem prudent for the learning unicyclist to use certain protections – wrist guards to protect against fracture from an outstretched hand leading, or leg guards to protect against tibia/fibula injuries,” Wang advises.
Overall, the study revealed that unicycle injuries in the U.S. are relatively infrequent and rarely require hospital admission. While helmet use is encouraged for anyone participating in any wheeled activity, more research is needed to understand the underlying mechanisms of unicycle injuries in order to confidently advocate for helmet use requirements while unicycling.
“Based on the low number of head injuries, it might seem that using a helmet would not be necessary, but then one needs to compare the potentially serious effects of head injuries with the cost and inconvenience of wearing a helmet.” Wang says. “Even so, as more people get involved with unicycling, perhaps a little safety prevention can go a long way.”
Massachusetts General Hospital (www.massgeneral.org), founded in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The MGH conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with an annual research budget of more than $775 million and major research centers in AIDS, cardiovascular research, cancer, computational and integrative biology, cutaneous biology, human genetics, medical imaging, neurodegenerative disorders, regenerative medicine, reproductive biology, systems biology, transplantation biology and photomedicine.