Jockeys are at a high risk for many types of injury — here’s how these athletes get care in the Derby City

Caring for jockeys is no easy feat — from concussions to spinal injuries and more. Here’s how these top athletes get care in the Derby City.

Protected by a helmet and safety vest, jockeys sit atop thoroughbred horses and navigate tracks of dirt or turf. Each horse race has different weight requirements for riders and gear, but in general jockeys are between 108 and 118 pounds. Combine that weight with a 1,000-pound animal born to run at top speeds of around 40 mph, and you have a thrilling but risky ride.

Common injuries

The most common jockey injuries are orthopedic soft-tissue injuries, but they do certainly experience their share of hard-tissue injuries as well.

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Soft-tissue injuries include bruising, cuts, sprains and damage to skin. Hard-tissue injuries include dislocations, broken bones and loss of teeth.

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. Over a quarter of incidents resulting in injury required further medical care in a hospital or other medical facility, while surgery was required in 2.5% 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.

“When a jockey is injured, it takes careful examination to identify potential sources of injury and what requires immediate attention. We see many soft-tissue injuries such as a torn or pulled muscle, ligament or tendon,” said Nathan L. McKinney, D.O., orthopedic sports medicine physician with Norton Orthopedic Institute. “Fortunately, most of the injuries we see can be treated on-site in our jockey care area.”

Concussions are the second most common injury to occur in jockeys. 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 generally take two to six weeks to fully recover from a concussion injury.

Norton Healthcare is the official medical provider of Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Dr. McKinney and Luke A. Beggs, M.D., Ph.D., also an orthopedic sports medicine physician with Norton Orthopedic Institute, support jockey care through Norton Sports Health. Norton Healthcare has created the Norton Sports Health Jockey Care Clinic, a first-aid space with medical equipment for the triage and evaluation of jockey injuries on-site at the famous Louisville racetrack.

In addition to offering care for injuries, Norton Sports Health provides annual physicals for jockeys, including baseline concussion testing and other preventive care. The athletes also have access to Norton Healthcare’s vast specialty services and providers to ensure quick, convenient care for any medical needs.

“These jockeys are elite, professional athletes in a unique sport, and we are proud to offer them our expertise in sports medicine,” Dr. Beggs said.

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