Newswise — As horseracing fans place their wagers for the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, one medical expert says there’s only one sure bet: more action is needed to protect jockeys from injury – or worse.
“Given the headlines following the death of NFL star Aaron Hernandez, it would seem that football players are the only athletes at risk for brain injury and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Yet in reality, many other athletes, including horseracing jockeys, are also susceptible to debilitating head injuries,” says Hallie Zwibel, D.O., sports medicine physician.
Zwibel states that while few studies have examined the effects of brain injury in jockeys, who cling to the backs of 1,000-pound thoroughbreds through chaotic herd conditions, the athletes can be thrown from their mounts at speeds greater than 40 miles per hour with little more than a helmet for protection.
“Not only can the fall’s impact be incredibly damaging, but once on the ground, the rider is at risk of being trampled by another rider’s horse,” says Zwibel, pointing to an incident at Aqueduct Racetrack that ended the career of jockey Ramon Dominguez in 2013.
Dr. Zwibel, who serves as the director of the Center for Sports Medicine at NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM), notes that these injuries present risk not only of brain injury, concussion, and paralysis, but also of death. The profession was reminded of this grave danger in March 2018 with the passing of renowned jockey José Flores, a veteran rider who ultimately succumbed to injuries following a headfirst fall.
One of the few existing studies on the matter demonstrates that more than 25 percent1 of horseracing injuries result in trauma to the head and neck, which can cause concussion. However, Zwibel explains that many riders may not be aware that their fall resulted in a concussion, as symptoms such as memory loss, headaches, confusion, and dizziness are short-lived. This lack of awareness has led the Center for Sports Medicine at NYITCOM to team up with The Jockeys’ Guild, an advocacy organization that assists permanently disabled jockeys. Together, the organizations will develop “return to ride” rules to provide instruction on when injured jockeys can safely return to racing.
“Without evaluation and treatment after a fall, riders who get back on the horse right away are gambling with their health. Clear guidelines need to be established to prevent these athletes from further aggravating an injury and inflicting a lifetime of neurodegenerative disease.”
Dr. Zwibel is available for interview/comment. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.