Starting gate area is common source of jockey injuries

Traveling as much as 40 mph on top of a 1,000-pound animal is a risky business, leaving the jockeys who ride thoroughbred racehorses vulnerable to injuries from falls, collisions and other dangerous situations.

Traveling as much as 40 mph on top of a 1,000-pound animal is a risky business, leaving the jockeys who ride as one with thoroughbred racehorses vulnerable to injuries from falls, collisions, rearing in the starting gate and other dangerous situations.

The most common jockey injuries are orthopedic soft-tissue injuries.

A four-year study of jockeys in Maryland found the area of the starting gate — either entering the gate, while in it or shortly after exiting — accounted for 41% of injuries.

Three-fourths of jockey injuries — regardless of where on the track — were the result of being thrown from the horse. The study showed jockeys experienced an average of 1.1 injuries per fall, with a fall happening every 4.6 race days.

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Most common body parts injured, according to the study published in 2020 in BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, were:

  • Lower extremity (30.9%)
  • Upper extremity (25.5%)
  • Head (15.2%)
  • Shoulder (11.8%)

“When a jockey is injured, it’s often a soft-tissue injury such as a torn or pulled muscle, ligament or tendon. Of the jockeys in this study, about 80% had soft-tissue injuries,” said Ryan J. Krupp, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and shoulder specialist who is executive medical director of Norton Orthopedic Institute and Norton Sports Health.

Concussions are the second most common injury that occur with the jockeys. According to a study led by Carl Mattacola, a kinesiology professor and researcher, from 2012 to 2017 approximately 14% of jockey injuries were concussions.

Riders may not be aware they have experienced a concussion, since symptoms such as memory loss, confusion and disorientation may not present immediately; it can take two to six weeks to fully recover from a concussion injury.

Norton Healthcare is now the official medical provider of Churchill Downs.

As part of the agreement, Norton Sports Health will provide medical support for jockeys at the world-renowned race track. Norton Healthcare will hire two sports medicine-trained physicians to be on-site for the spring and fall meets, including the Kentucky Derby. Norton Healthcare also will outfit Churchill Downs’ jockey first-aid space with medical equipment for the triage and evaluation of possible injuries.

In addition to offering its team of health providers, Norton Sports Health also will provide annual physicals for jockeys, including baseline concussion testing, lab work and other preventive care. In addition, the athletes will have access to Norton Healthcare’s vast specialty services and providers to ensure quick, convenient care for any medical needs.

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