July 19th, 2013

Health N' Sports: NASCAR injuries and treatment

Staff Report

Health N' Sports: NASCAR injuries and treatment
Ben Rhodes

Louisville Orthopaedic Clinic shares insight on NASCAR:

As a part of the Louisville Orthopaedic Clinic, the Sports Rehab Team physical therapists are knowledgeable and trained in the latest advancements and techniques available in sports rehabilitation.

On a weekly basis, the Health N’ Sports Update will give information on prevention, recovery, and include special offers, as well as general health tips that would be beneficial to all. If there is a specific topic you’d like to know or hear more about, email future suggestions to editor@catholicsportsnet.com.

Racecar driving is arguably one of the most popular sports in the world.  In the US, NASCAR remains on top in terms of popularity and revenue.  With speeds around 200 mph, injuries have and continue to be present in the sport.  NASCAR has taken many steps to protect the drivers from serious injury.  While new rules and safety devices have increased the driver’s safety, a wide variety of injuries remain.

Dale Earnhardt was one, if not, the most popular driver in NASCAR when he suffered a fatal injury at the Daytona 500 in 2001.  Following this tragedy, NASCAR required the use of the head and neck support (HANS) device in 2002.  This piece of safety equipment prevents the driver’s head from violently crashing forward during a front end collision.  The current device, made of lightweight carbon and Kevlar, rises out of the driver’s fire suit and attaches to the helmet preventing extreme neck flexion.  The HANS device decreases the force placed on the driver’s neck from a deadly 900 to a manageable 200 pounds.

Back injuries are one of the most common injuries sustained following an accident in and out of the sport of NASCAR.  Some of the most common lumbar and/or thoracic injuries include:

Lumbar and thoracic sprains

Strains of the lumbar and thoracic surrounding muscles

Fractures of the lumbar and thoracic vertebrae

Herniated discs

Spinal cord injuries

Earlier this year, the driver of the No. 11 Toyota car, Denny Hamlin, sustained a compression fracture of his L1 vertebrae when he struck the wall at the Auto Club 400.  A compression fracture occurs when the vertebrae collapses due to some type of trauma.  Luckily, this injury did not require surgery, but Hamlin did miss 6 weeks of racing.  Denny is back to racing, but he has up to a year before he can be totally confident in the strength of the vertebrae.

In 2011, Brad Keselowski sustained an ankle injury while practicing in Atlanta.  In addition to a lateral ankle sprain, Keselowski was also diagnosed with an avulsion fracture.  Avulsion fractures occur when the ligament pulls a small piece of bone away from the attachment point.  These particular injuries are not very serious and Keselowski was back racing in four days.  Since the fibula only supports a small percentage of weight, he was allowed to immobilize the fracture with a brace and continue driving.  Keselowski fought through the pain of using the clutch with his left ankle and placed first, second, third and first in his next four races.

Even though they are wearing high tech safety equipment and surrounded by roll cages, NASCAR drivers are susceptible to the same type of injuries sustained in everyday motor vehicle accidents.  Whether you’re traveling at 200 mph or 55 mph, injuries should always be evaluated and treated by professionals in order to get back on the road as quickly as possible.

“I train at Crossfit to minimize fatigue and keep me focused throughout the race,” NASCAR Driver Ben Rhodes said. “Off the track, I eat healthy and prepare for each race weekend by staying hydrated because of the intense heat. On the track, I have a water bag that connects to my helmet to keep me from getting so dehydrated during a race.”

“Safety is a huge aspect of racing for me,” Rhodes said. “I make sure that I have the best equipment to keep me safe since it is such a dangerous sport. Fire is a big concern during a race so I wear a complete set of flame retardant underwear. This includes socks, pants, shirt, and a head sock. I also wear a three layer flame retardant fire suit, flame retardant shoes, and flame retardant gloves. Additionally, I wear shoe cuffs around my heels to keep my feet from burning during the race because of the intense heat from the motor. To keep me safe from the force of hard wrecks, I wear a carbon fiber helmet and a carbon fiber head and neck restraint. Additionally, I am strapped into a full containment seat with six point belts (six belts holding me in place).”

“Racing is a lot safer than it once was,” Rhodes said. “Before the death of Dale Earnhardt, saftey did not get as much attention as it does now. Drivers were hurt constantly and were killed more often. Now, it is a big issue and safety equipment has come a long way.”

Mike Mehring, AT


Louisville Orthopaedic Clinic & Sports Rehab Center

Main Office: 502-897-1794

Physical Therapy: 502-897-1790

Website: louortho.com

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