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Rodeo cowboys bounce back quicker after suffering whiplash


Rodeo athletes have often been called a breed of their own and now University of Alberta research looking into how they deal with whiplash injuries confirms it.

Dr. Robert Ferrari, from the U of A’s Department of Medicine, has conducted several studies on whiplash and patients’ expectations of recovery. Last year while on a radio talk show, he was explaining how Canadians have a worse outcome than those recovering from similar injuries in other countries. Since we are all anatomically built the same way, he said, the cultural expectations of injury and the way we treat them is part of the problem. One of the callers suggested looking at rodeo athletes since that group tends to incur significant injuries, yet have different attitudes about "getting back on the horse."

Ferrari, along with U of A Faculty of Agriculture, Forestry and Home Economics student Ashley Shannon and the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry’s Dr. Anthony Russell, investigated whether a group of rodeo athletes would report more benign outcomes to their motor vehicle whiplash injuries than a group of spectators at those events. The findings were recently presented at the Canadian Rheumatology Association meeting and published in the Journal of Rheumatology. Because many of the spectators come from similar backgrounds as the rodeo athletes--often in ranching or farming--the team wanted to learn if a difference existed between the two groups. Participants--about 160 rodeo cowboys and 140 spectators--were asked to recall motor vehicle collision experiences, the type of vehicle they were in, the presence of symptoms as a result and the outcomes for those symptoms.

"What we found is that rodeo athletes recover faster and miss less work even though they shared the same occupation," said Ferrari, also a clinical professor at the University of Alberta Hospital. "It may be that athletes are physically more fit--although farmers and ranchers are as well--or it may be that athletes have a different attitude toward injury and they think the best way to deal with it is to just keep going. It may be a coping style that most people don’t possess."

The vehicle types during the collisions and the occupation type at the time of the survey were the same for both groups. The duration of symptoms, however, was, on average, 30 days in rodeo athletes and 73 days in spectators. None of the rodeo athletes recalled symptoms lasting for more than 60 days compared to 15 per cent of spectators who had symptoms more than 60 days. Rodeo athletes took no more than three weeks off work, whereas among spectators, it was common to take more than six weeks off.

"The lack of chronic problems with these athletes is a good reason to study them and understand why they don’t have the same response and to see what we can learn from them," said Ferrari. "Now we’re teaming up with a Calgary sports clinic to study injuries rodeo athletes deal with in their sport, including how they are able to continue working after being trampled by a bull. There is a fear of pain with activity in Western culture, but athletes don’t seem to have it as much. We’d like to learn why."

Phoebe Dey | EurekAlert!
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