Rodeo Injuries: ER Physician Talks Treatment for This Tough Breed of Athlete

If you’re like many North Texas residents, the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, which runs from January 18 through February 9, is a not-to-be-missed annual event for the whole family. In fact, more than a million visitors attended the event in 2018. Despite ringing in its 122nd year, this year’s celebration is historic because it will be the last time the event will be held at the Will Rogers Coliseum before moving to the Dickies Arena in 2020. Whether you’re into livestock and horse shows, history, live music or the thrill of watching your favorite event, there’s something for every North Texan at this annual spectacle.

Many of us are drawn to the thrill of fast-paced rodeo events as athletes compete in bronc riding, barrel racing, and other sports. But just like other athletes, these men and women are prone to orthopedic and other injuries that require proper diagnosis and treatment. According to the a study published in the International SportMed Journal, the injury rate for bull riding is 10 times greater than football and 13 times greater than ice hockey, making it the most dangerous organized sport.

We sat down with Glenn Hardesty, M.D., an emergency medicine physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Plano and Texas Health Prosper to learn about rodeo and equine-related injuries, how they’re similar and different, and how athletes are treated.

 

Tell us a little about your background and interest in treating rodeo athletes.

“I’ve been a practicing ER physician for 20 years, but prior to that I was a paramedic while studying at Texas A&M University,” Hardesty says. “During my college career, I first came in contact with equine-related injuries, and that experience was the catalyst for learning more about injuries associated with rodeo and equine sports.”

 

As an ER physician, you’ve seen all kinds of injuries. How are these injuries different?

“In the most simplistic terms, a rodeo or equine injury is caused by an animal, most often one that’s significantly larger than the athlete,” he explains. “Injuries can result from a fall, being kicked off the animal, stomped on or even gored, as can be the case with bulls. Unlike other sports, there is no whistle to stop play and recover. The animal keeps moving regardless of whether the athlete is potentially injured. I’ve seen long-time rodeo athletes pretty ‘broken up’ after years of competition.”

 

Besides an animal being part of the equation, can you tell us how injuries compare between a rodeo and non-rodeo athlete? Or are they largely the same?

“First off, rodeo athletes are more prone to injuries and a wider range of them,” he says. “They’re subject to major blunt trauma to the chest, abdomen and pelvis by being thrown or kicked off an animal, in addition to orthopedic and neurological injuries common with athletes from other sports.”

 

What types of injuries are rodeo athletes most susceptible to getting?

“We’ve seen a bit of everything in the emergency room,” Hardesty says. “Injuries run the gamut from bone fractures to rib injuries, but also include internal injuries like liver and spleen lacerations that can be caused by a kick from the animal. Unfortunately, we also see some head injuries. In extreme cases, an athlete can be stomped on or gored by a bull, causing critical injury. It’s worth noting that sometimes it’s not just the athlete who’s injured. We’ve seen cases of rodeo officials, as well as bullfighters or rodeo protection athletes injured.”

 

How is diagnosis and treatment different for a rodeo athlete’s injury?

“In terms of stabilizing treatment in the ER, we address similar injuries the same, whether it’s a football, soccer or rodeo athlete,” Hardesty explains. “But the definitive treatment — surgery, for example — may differ. With definitive treatment, the decision will be driven by factors like the importance of returning to the sport quickly, as is the case with many professional athletes. In other instances, the decision may be driven by an athlete’s lifestyle and decisions regarding their desire to compete again.”

 

Are there precautions these athletes can take to prevent or minimize injuries?

“Every year we see improvements with rodeo safety, and that’s good news,” Hardesty says. The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo has a safety committee of approximately 12 local professional firefighters and safety industry experts devoted to inspecting and resolving potential safety hazards.

“Rodeo athletes wear helmets and vests to protect themselves and decrease their chances for injury,” he adds. “It’s been my observation that professional rodeo athletes have the opportunity to take more precautions than semi-pros or amateur. Of course, rodeo clowns are an important factor and help prevent many injuries. Regardless of these protections, it’s still a risky sport.”

 

You clearly have great respect for these athletes. Anything more you’d like to share about them?

“In my opinion, rodeo athletes are the most stoic of all we’ve treated,” Hardesty says. “They are a tough group of men and women, and I respect their love of the sport. They’re aware of the risks, but the reward and their love of the sport outweigh those concerns. Here at Texas Health Resources, we have a great opportunity to make a critical difference for these athletes at a critical time.”

 

For more information about sports medicine at Texas Health facilities, visit: https://www.texashealth.org/sports-medicine/sports-injuries/

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