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Study: Thousands Of Injuries As Ziplines Proliferate, Younger Kids Most At Risk

In 2012 alone, there were over 3,600 zipline-related injuries, according to a recent report, or about 10 a day. (popejon2/Flickr)

In 2012 alone, there were over 3,600 zipline-related injuries, according to a recent report, or about 10 a day. (popejon2/Flickr)

Hannah Weyerhauser was 5 years old, playing on the zipline at her family’s house in New Hampshire, when she started complaining that her older cousins and siblings were going faster than she was. So her mother, Annie, gave Hannah an extra big push. But when Hannah sped to the end of the zipline, she stopped short, flew into the air, did a back flip, and landed on her neck.

“For a few minutes she was really pale and out of it,” said her mother, a Boston doctor (and a friend of mine). She called an ambulance, and paramedics put a collar on Hannah’s neck on the way to the local emergency department. Ultimately, the little girl was fine, although she probably had a minor concussion, her mother said. But Annie shudders as she thinks of what could have happened: “If she had fallen a little differently she could have broken her neck.”

Others are not so lucky. Increasingly, zipline disasters are making the news. A 12-year-old girl in North Carolina died after falling off a zipline at the YMCA’s Champ Cheerio in June. And last year, a 10-year-old boy died after a backyard zipline accident in Easton, Massachusetts, in which the tree holding the line fell on the child.

Indeed, injuries related to ziplines are rising as the lines proliferate, according to a new report: In 2012 alone, there were over 3,600 zipline-related injuries, or about 10 a day. The study, which researchers say is the first to characterize the epidemiology of zipline-related injuries using a nationally representative database, found that from 1997-2012, about 16,850 zipline-related injuries were treated in U.S. emergency departments.

Which states have zipline regulations (Source: Association for Challenge Course Technology)

Which states have zipline regulations (Source: Association for Challenge Course Technology)

The report on ziplines (first used over a century ago to transport supplies in the Indian Himalayas) found that most of the injuries resulted from falling off the zipline, and many involved young children. I asked one of the study authors, Tracy Mehan, manager of translational research with the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, a few questions about the report, published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine.

Here, edited, is what she said.

Rachel Zimmerman: Are you surprised by this sharp increase in zipline injuries?

Tracy Mehan: The number of commercial ziplines grew from just 10 in 2001 to over 200 by 2012. When you include the number of amateur ziplines that can also be found in backyards and at places like outdoor education programs and camps, the number skyrockets to over 13,000. The increase in the number of injuries is likely due largely to the increase in number of ziplines and shows this is a growing trend. 

What are the most common types of injuries?

The majority of zipline-related injuries were the result of either a fall (77 percent) or a collision (13 percent) with either a tree, a stationary support structure or another person. The most frequent type of injuries were broken bones (46 percent), bruises (15 percent), strains/sprains (15 percent) and concussions/closed head injuries (7 percent). Approximately one in 10 patients (12 percent) were admitted to the hospital for their injury. Continue reading

A Boxer’s Brain And The Evolution Of Sports-Related Head Injuries

(don's athletics/Flickr)

(don’s athletics/Flickr)

(This post originally appeared on Boston University’s Research News website as “Head Examiner: Neurologist Ann McKee Talks About Battered Brains, Tangled Tau, And The Future of Sports“)

By Barbara Moran

For Ann McKee, every brain tells a story. And sometimes it’s a tragic one. McKee, a professor of neurology and pathology at the Boston University School of Medicine (MED), is the director of neuropathology for the Veterans Affairs New England Healthcare System, and also directs BU’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease found in athletes with a history of repetitive brain trauma. McKee first identified its telltale mark—tiny tangles of a protein called tau, clustered around blood vessels—in the dissected brain of a boxer who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Although most people associate CTE with professional football players, McKee has found it in the brains of soccer, hockey, rugby, and baseball players as well. Her research has alerted the public to the long-term dangers of repetitive hits in sports and raised tough questions about safety. McKee was invited to speak about this growing public health concern at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society, held in February 2015 in San Jose, CA. She told BU Research the story behind her discovery of CTE, and what it might mean for the future of sports.

BU Research: You’re a world expert on tau protein, which has been implicated in Alzheimer’s, CTE, and other brain diseases. Have you studied tau your whole career?

McKee: Yes. I love tau.

Why?

It’s beautiful, the way it collects throughout the nervous system and just sort of fills up the nerve cell. It’s always been quite lovely to look at, visually captivating. I mean, how crazy is that? But it’s true.

When you started studying tau, you were studying Alzheimer’s?

I was interested in Alzheimer’s, but I also worked on PSP (progressive supernuclear palsy), and something called corticobasal degeneration.

Those are not so famous.

No, they’re not so famous. But I got very involved in defining what these individual diseases looked like. It’s like being at the Smithsonian and being really interested in one collection of pottery or something. And once you start understanding it, you start seeing all these differences, and it’s like “Whoa!”

Brains with CTE show a distinct pattern of tau protein, seen here in brown. The two slides on the bottom come from the brain of a 66-year-old ex-NFL player. The slides on top are from a 65-year-old man without CTE. Photo courtesy of Ann McKee

Do you remember the first time you saw a brain with CTE?

Yes. It was phenomenally interesting. The first case was Paul Pender, a professional [middleweight] boxer here in the Boston area. He had twice been world champion. That was my first time seeing it under the microscope. I looked at the slide and it was like “Oh my God! This is so amazing. I’ve never seen anything like this.” It just blew my mind. That was 2003.

How did it look different than, say, a brain with Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease has these beta amyloid plaques that look like small puffs of smoke throughout the brain. Continue reading

Elderly Man (Me) Found In Snow With Punctured Lung But Still, At 79, I Ski

Author Ralph Gilbert, who suffered a punctured lung in a ski accident, and his son, Keith, his rescuer (Courtesy)

Author Ralph Gilbert, who suffered a punctured lung in a ski accident, and his son, Keith, his rescuer (Courtesy)

By Ralph M. Gilbert
Guest Contributor

Traumatic pneumothorax: the presence of air or gas in the pleural cavity, which impairs ventilation and oxygenation, caused by a severe trauma to the chest or lung wall. Symptoms are often severe, and can contribute to fatal complications such as cardiac arrest, respiratory failure, and shock.

Every time I tried to lift my head the sky began to spin. Then I felt the nausea. I knew that I had to get up out of the snow but after a few attempts, I just lay back, exhausted. Suddenly, a spray of powder was kicked onto my face as a young ski patrolwoman executed a hurried skid stop. She bent down and put her cold face next to mine:

“Sir,” she said looking into my unfocused eyes. “Are you all right? Do you know where you are, sir? Where are you, sir?”

“Huh?”

I realized that she wasn’t asking a particularly hard question, but I just couldn’t come up with an answer.

“I don’t know,” I replied.

She helped me to my feet.I looked around and saw the other skiers.

“I’m skiing…right?”

She radioed for help. The next thing I knew, I was being leaned back into a toboggan. Fighting the nausea and afraid that I would have to throw up, I asked to be tipped over momentarily before they restrained me to the sled for my ride down.

I regained consciousness in a strange hospital ER.

A young woman was standing over me. She asked: “Do you really think, sir, that a man of your age should be skiing alone in the glades?”

I hated that question. I found it particularly humiliating. As an intrepid, former U.S. Army trooper, I didn’t want to be talked to that way, especially by a woman who asked me the same questions my wife often asked.

Tests indicated a concussion. Upon release, I was told to buy a new helmet (each helmet can absorb only one crash), and not to ski for a week. I took only one day off, which I thought was plenty. I then purchased a new helmet and two days later I was back up on my skis again.

My next accident a few years later was to be worse, much worse.

Age denial? Not So Much

Before I tell you that story, I’d like to note that I’m not in total age denial. Now 79, I spend less and less of my après-ski time trading embellished ski stories with my buddies in smoky bars. These days, when we go on our annual ski trip, I can be found at night alone in my little room, carefully applying ice packs and winding compression bandages around my ill-treated joints.

I reject the idea, however, that I am suffering from any age-related diminution of muscle tone, balance or endurance. My ski dreams are still intact even if my body is not. I do realize that I should avoid the super steep double black diamond trails that I once traversed. But I just can’t resist.

Why? By story’s end, I’ll try to explain.

Male Bonding

Each year, twelve of us, former army buddies at Fort Bliss, Texas go on a ski trip together. We had trained as Nike Missile crewmen back in 1958 during the Cold War. Our job was to join with others to protect the City of New York.Stationed in a darkened radar van, we were to monitor our radar screens for Russian bombers. Our Nike Missiles were buried in concrete shafts near us. Our vantage point was Spring Valley, New York, which otherwise is known for kosher chickens and Hassids. If we saw any Russians in the air we were to electronically challenge them, then shoot them down. Continue reading

Olympic Dreams? Bah, Humbug! Children, Here’s What Really Matters

Gold medallist Stefan Groothuis from the Netherlands jumps in celebration during the flower ceremony for the men's 1000-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Gold medallist Stefan Groothuis from the Netherlands jumps in celebration during the flower ceremony for the men’s 1000-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

On my first date with the man who would much later become my husband, we went to hear a mountaineer describe his world-class feats climbing rock cliffs thousands of feet high in Greenland.

As we walked out, I said: “The whole thing would have been so much more compelling if there had been some children on top of the 5,000-foot granite wall who needed saving, don’t you think?”

Yes, I confess it. Though it may get me kicked out of Boston, I’m just missing the gene that would allow me to derive meaning from sports, whether it’s rock-climbing, Olympic skating, or even — dare I say it? — Red Sox baseball.

I do appreciate the skill and courage and endurance of top-level athletes. Their beauty and grace. But I can never see the games in which they compete as anything more than elaborate and empty artificial constructs created for an entertainment industry that brings in billions from people who somehow do derive some meaning from it.

So you can imagine my reaction as I watch our children consuming the hoopla of the Sochi Olympics. I see them being sold this story: These athletes are American (or Dutch or Japanese) heroes. They had a dream. They overcame great adversity. And now they may reap the ultimate reward — public glory!

Here’s what I want to tell my children. First, all dreams are not created equal. What if your dream were to build the biggest pile of buttons in the world? Would that have the same level of meaning as the dream of curing cancer or writing the Great American Novel?

Second of all, dreams are fine, but what matters far more is finding something you love that can last. Continue reading

Study: Head-Blows In Single Sports Season May Impact Brain Health, Test Scores

When it comes to potential head injuries, I’m feeling pretty good about my daughters’ sports choices these days: Taekwondo, track, yoga, African dance.

Of course, injuries — head and otherwise — can occur anytime, anywhere. But I have to say, with the wave of new data emerging about the the scary long-term effects of repeated head blows, I’m pleased that they have, so far, shown no interest in hardcore contact sports like football or ice hockey, where head injuries are more common.

But I probably shouldn’t be feeling so puffed-up on this issue quite yet: even sports not typically associated with repeated head bonks are being reevaluated. (See, also: cheerleading.)

One local grandmother told me how concerned she is about her 11-year-old grandson, a soccer fanatic who dreams of playing professionally, and has already had a concussion and other injuries. “He tells me how much he loves soccer,” the grandmother says. “And when I asked him, ‘What about the injuries?’ he says, ‘Oh, that’s just part of the game.’ This certainly takes some of the joy out of watching him play. I’m very worried about what all this is doing to his brain.”

And a Newton mom, who had steered her son away from football and hockey, now has new worries: her 9-year-old just got a concussion skiing. “I think we’ll continue to let him ski, but we just hope he’ll be smarter, more aware — we tell him ‘It’s your head!’ Maybe we should have him wear a helmet all the time.”

The latest study by researchers at Dartmouth published online in the journal Neurology focused on the most notorious contact sports, but found that even one short season of play may change the brain in ways that negatively impact learning, memory and cognition.

Here’s more from the news release:

New research suggests that even in the absence of a concussion, blows to the head during a single season of football or ice hockey may affect the brain’s white matter and cognition, or memory and thinking abilities. The study is published in the December 11, 2013, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. White matter is brain tissue that plays an important role in the speed of nerve signals.

“We found differences in the white matter of the brain in these college contact sport athletes compared to non-contact sport varsity athletes,” said study author Thomas W. McAllister, MD, of Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. “The degree of white matter change in the contact sport athletes was greater in those who performed more poorly than expected on tests of memory and learning, suggesting a possible link in some athletes between how hard/often they are hit, white matter changes, and cognition, or memory and thinking abilities.”

The work was completed while McAllister was with the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, NH.

The study involved 80 concussion-free Division I NCAA Dartmouth College varsity football and ice hockey players who wore helmets that recorded the acceleration-time of the head following impact. They were compared to 79 non-contact sport athletes in activities such as track, crew and Nordic skiing. The players were assessed before and shortly after the season with brain scans and learning and memory tests. Continue reading

Red Sox Nation: Why Winning Feels So Good, So Good

By Dr. Rick Leskowitz
Guest contributor

What is it about winning that feels so deliciously good? Why is New England in such a state of euphoria now? Usually this happiness comes from the pride of vanquishing an opponent, proving that you’re better than your adversary — a less primal version of “I’m alive, you’re dead,” played out at the level of ego.

But this week it was more than that. The St. Louis Cardinals were noble adversaries, the opposite of the “Evil Empire” Yankee types or Bambino’s Curses that used to foster our happiness. I think this year’s victory feels so good because it was all about teamwork and shared excellence, group energies rather than individual egos, transcendence rather than pride.

Jesse Costa (WBUR)

Jesse Costa (WBUR)

The 2013 Red Sox enabled their teammates, and their fans, to feel part of something bigger than themselves. Since that is one definition of a spiritual experience — putting aside the ego to become part of a greater whole — this baseball season was in a very real sense a spiritual experience for thousands. And the Higher Power at work this year took the form of group bonding and coherence:

Team Chemistry

The ingredients were all there: 25 quirky and lovable guys who bonded with each other from Day 1, full beards as the symbol of their mutual admiration and affection, and team chemistry as an express goal of their new general manager. Simply speaking, they loved one another, and we couldn’t help but notice how that helped them bond and perform. Manager John Farrell admitted that some recent roster moves (like adding Jonny Gomes to the lineup) were made purely because of his intangibles (his “energy” and “personality”), even though the statistics didn’t back him up. We saw that numbers don’t tell the whole story (Thanks, Theo) and intangible forces like love really do matter.

Fan Energy

The fans came to love these players as their beards, and winning streaks, grew longer. The noise at Fenway was deafening during the playoffs, but it was an energy of appreciation rather than of gloating or mocking. And research shows how appreciation creates a coherent heart rhythm that enhances mind/body performance by putting you into The Zone of peak performance by focusing on their positive rather than negative emotions (ie, no more “Yankees suck!”).

Plus, these positive emotions are contagious, so appreciative fans can actually entrain their team to enter into the Zone of peak performance. Also, the crowd can become even more coherent through the magic of music — the “Sweet Caroline” sing-a-long has been shown to generate the highest fan coherence of any moment during a game. Indeed, “Good times never seemed so good, so good, so good.”

Regional Bonding

The hidden secret to this team’s success might have been April’s shocking Marathon bombing. Continue reading

Fallen Idols: Therapist On Talking To Kids About Doping Athletes

By Steven Schlozman, M.D
Guest Contributor

Lance Armstrong. Sammy Sosa. Mark McGwire. And now Ryan Braun.

/flickr

Andy Miah/flickr

These athletes share an awful lot in common. They’re all celebrated professional sports stars. They are now — and always have been — amazing athletes. And, they all fell hard from the exalted pedestals on which we seem intent on placing them.

Armstrong, Sosa, McGwire and Braun all used performance enhancing drugs. How do you tell your kids that their sports heroes are no longer heroes? Do the stars stop being heroes to your kids? How do you tell an eight-year-old that the homeruns Sammy Sosa hit are somehow not real? They sure looked real when the made their way out of the park…

A common and more general question thus rears its head for fans and, even more importantly, for the parents of young fans. What do we tell our kids when their idols fall from perceived grace?

We can use the ongoing issue of performance enhancing substances as a primer for these discussions. In fact, this is a more complicated issue than at first might appear. After all, we tend as a culture to have a binary view of our athletes. Spend five minutes on Sports Radio, and you’ll get that message. Athletes are either gods or they’re bums. There isn’t a whole lot in between.

In fact, developmentally, we tend to view the professional athletes in our world with the cognitive level of an eight-year-old. Continue reading

ABC: Players Charge NFL With Concealing Risk Of Brain Injuries

ABC News reports that more than “2,000 former NFL players plan to file a lawsuit this morning in Philadelphia, accusing the league of concealing information linking football-related injuries to long-term brain damage.”

In the biggest sports lawsuit ever, the former players allege that the “NFL exacerbated the health risk by promoting the game’s violence” and “deliberately and fraudulently” misled players about the link between concussions and long-term brain injuries.

The NFL denies the claims, saying, “Any allegation that the NFL intentionally sought to mislead players has no merit.”

But with some of the sport’s household names now revealing the human price paid for all those on-field heroics, this lawsuit could change football forever.

“It’s America’s favorite sport and its favorite athletes and now we’re hearing about the dark side,” USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan said. “It really hits like a ton of bricks.”

There is, of course, also a psychological dark side related to these health risks. Continue reading