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Prospective studies have shown professional athletes in which of the following sports have the highest incidence of degenerative changes in the cervical and lumbar spine?
Horse racers (Jockeys)
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Professional horse racers (Jockeys) have the highest incidence of degenerative changes of both the cervical and lumbar spine when compared to age-matched, non-athletes.
There is significant risk of injury when working with horses. The most common acute injuries are extremity fractures from falls off of the horse. Chronic injuries are also well known with a high incidence of degenerative changes of the spine, most commonly in the cervical and lumbar spine.
Tsirikos et al. performed a prospective study analyzing the long-term effects of horse riding on the cervical and lumbar spine in jockeys. A 13-year clinical follow-up of the 32 jockeys revealed the following: 15 (47%) jockeys reported mild to severe limitations of physical activities as a consequence of progressive degenerative changes of the spine. Twenty-four (75%) jockeys had degenerative lesions on the cervical and/or lumbar spine radiographs compared to 6 (18%) in the control group.
Cowley et al. reviewed the workers compensation claims for injuries sustained by horse racing professionals. Of the 358 horse-related injuries sustained by jockeys, 270 (75%) were associated with falls from a horse. They showed that fractures were the most common injury, with the leg and shoulder being the most common sites. There was no comment about long-term chronic injuries.
Illustration A shows a schematic representation of the spinal degenerative process. From left to right there is progressive loss of disc height and osteophyte formation.
Answers 2,3,4,5: None of the sports listed have been shown to have higher rates of degenerative spine problems than jockeys. The sports most commonly cited as having the greatest strain on the spine include: horse-racing, wrestling, rugby, ski-jumping, and gymnastics.
Tsirikos A, Papagelopoulos PJ, Giannakopoulos PN, Boscainos PJ, Zoubos AB, Kasseta M, Nikiforidis PA, Korres DS.
Orthopedics. 2001 Jun;24(6):561-4. PMID: 11430735 (Link to Abstract)
Cowley S, Bowman B, Lawrance M.
Br J Sports Med. 2007 Oct;41(10):639-43; discussion 643. Epub 2007 May 14. PMID: 17502333 (Link to Abstract)
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