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Most cyclists hospitalized for injuries are over age 45, study finds

Here in Minnesota, bicycling appears to be getting safer even as the number of riders increases. 

Secretary of State John Kerry broke his right femur in a cycling accident in Scionzier, France, in May.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder

As the popularity of bicycling has increased, so has the number of people showing up in hospital emergency rooms with serious cycling-related injuries.

In fact, the rate of hospital admissions for cycling injuries — especially injuries to the head and torso — more than doubled during a recent 15-year period, according to research published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

That finding is not, perhaps, surprising. More people on bikes means more possibilities for accidents — and more trips to the hospital.

What is surprising, however, is that older cyclists — people over the age of 45 — appear to be behind most of the increase in injuries.

ER data

For the study, researchers analyzed data collected from about 100 hospital emergency rooms across the country between 1998 and 2013. They found that cycling-related injuries for which people sought ER care rose 28 percent within that time period.

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Digging deeper into the data, the researchers also discovered that injured cyclists were getting proportionally older — significantly so. From 1998 to 2013, the proportion of the cycling-related injuries involving people older than 45 rose 81 percent, from 23 percent to 42 percent.

As for the number of riders hospitalized for cycling-related injuries, it climbed even more sharply — a stunning 120 percent.  And the proportion of these hospitalized riders in the over-45 age group shot up 66 percent, from 39 percent to 64 percent.

That means that 4 of 10 cyclists showing up in ERs with cycling-related injuries and 6 of 10 who are hospitalized for those injuries are middle-aged or older.

Most of the cyclists getting injured are men, the data also revealed. The proportion of women arriving in an ER with cycling-related injuries stayed at around 35 percent throughout the 15-year period of the study.

The role of age

Age is probably a major factor in why so many older riders are hospitalized, according to the study’s authors.

“If you take typical 25-year-olds and 60-year olds, if they have a similar crash, it’s more likely the older person will have more severe injuries,” explained Dr. Benjamin Breyer, the study’s senior author and a urologist at the University of California, San Francisco, in a statement released with the study. 

The researchers also found an increase in street accidents (ones involving crashes with motor vehicles) — a finding that highlights the need for better cycling infrastructure as well as safer riding practices, they say.

Some Minnesota numbers

Here in Minnesota, bicycling appears to be getting safer even as the number of riders increases. Injuries in the state — at least those caused by a collision with a motor vehicle — actually decreased 8 percent in 2014 from the previous year, according to the Department of Public Safety.

In 2014, 755 cyclists were injured in such crashes compared to 822 in 2013. Bicycle fatalities dropped as well, from six to five.

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Almost half of the street crashes in 2014 involved cyclists less than 25 years of age, and all five cyclists who died were under the age of 40.

Among the 277 Minnesota cyclists who experienced severe or moderate injuries in collisions with motor vehicles in 2014, 28 percent (78) were aged 45 or older.

You’ll find an abstract for the JAMA study on the journal’s website, but the full study is behind a paywall.