The High Risk of Concussions in the Dangerous Sport of Rodeo

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Updated: Nov 19, 2022
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Rodeo is a dangerous sport that can cause many serious injuries due to the physical toll it takes on one’s body. Head injuries are very common in rodeo because not only can you be stepped on or kicked. You can also be pulled down on a bulls head, land wrong on the ground. Thrown into the fence or chutes and during the ride your head is constantly being whipped around causing sever head and neck injuries.

The term Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is defined as any injury to the brain. That was caused by an external physical force that results in partial or total functional disability. Or psychosocial impairment, or both. TBI applies to open and closed head injuries causing impairments in one or more areas. Areas such as cognition, language, memory, attention, reasoning, abstract thinking, judgment, problem solving, sensory, perceptual, motor skills, psychosocial behavior, physical functions, information processing, and speech. (, 2003) TBI also includes other head injuries such as concussions. Concussions are caused by the brain literally bouncing around inside the skull, which causes a short-term disruption of electrical activity in the brain. Tissues surround the brain, which acts as a cushion between the brain and the skull, head injuries can include these tissues and can also grow into a much more serious injury such as bleeding inside the skull and seizures.

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The signs and symptoms of a head injury include loss of consciousness. Confusion and inability to focus attention, headaches, nausea or vomiting, unequal pupils and vacant stares, memory loss, delayed responses and slurred speech, odd bodily sensations, disorientation and observable lack of coordination, and overly emotional to situation. (, 2003) When it is questionable whether a cowboy does suffer from a head injury or not a supervisor must test the injured person. When testing for a head injury you must test mental status; orientation testing includes time, place, name, and situation question. Having the subject name things in reverse order can test concentration and you can test memory by having them tell you the details of the ride or recall 3 words and 3 objects instantly and after 5 minutes. A neurological test should also be done consisting or a strength test as well as tests for coordination, ability, and sensation. Also an exertion test should be done including 40-yard sprints, 5 push-ups, 5 sit-ups, and 5 knee bends and if any appearance of associated symptoms is abnormal and a physician should be consulted for diagnosis. (Dr. Dale Butterwick)

There are 3 different Grades to a concussion and each has slightly different treatments. Symptoms of a Grade 1 concussion include temporary confusion, there is no loss of consciousness, dizziness, headaches, nausea, lethargy, possibility for some memory loss, and any abnormalities from the examination will clear in less than 15 minutes. The athlete should not return to play without the approval of a physician. For a first Grade 1 concussion they should be removed from the contest, examined immediately and after 5 minutes, and always check the neck for injury. A Grade 2 concussion symptoms are similar to a Grade 1concussion except they show symptoms for longer than 15 minutes and should be treated the same but the injured person should rest for at least a week before returning to competition. A Grade 3 concussion occurs with any loss of consciousness and the injured person should be transported to emergency room for a very in-depth neurological evaluation, and a physician should clear the competitor to return to the arena after at least a week of being symptom free. For the second concussion of a 1st or 2nd Grade there should be a minimum of a 1-month layoff and should only return after 1 week without symptoms and being cleared by a physician. For a second Grade 3 or a third concussion of any kind the season should be terminated. (, 2003)

In the Bareback riding a concussion is caused by a variety of reasons due to the nature of the event. Your hand is wedged into a rawhide handle that is shaped somewhat like the handle on a suitcase. Then the horse will jump away from you trying to jerk your hand out of the Riggin all while you are trying to spur the horse in the neck. Being kicked in the head can cause concussions, you could land on your head, on the ground, or you could be thrown into the chutes. But the three most common ways to get a concussion from Bareback riding are having your head bounce off the horses’ rump, having your head snapped back due to the pull on the rest of your body, also causing whiplash, or landing on the back of your head after being bucked off.

Bull riding also has its share of concussions due to bring kicked or stepped on. The majority of them come from the Bull rider being pulled down on to the bulls head, landing on the back of your head or whipping your head side to side to keep your head looking at the middle of the bulls back. On occasion a concussion may be caused due to a bull mauling the rider.

The Saddle Bronc riding has the least concussions of all the rough stock events but still is a dangerous event. Most concussions in the Bronc riding occur when the Bronc rider lands on their head but they are also kicked in the head or stepped on. Concussions are most common in the rough stock events but if you fall off a horse in a timed event there is always a chance of getting a concussion or other injuries.

Cowboys have been very innovative in prevention measures to avoid concussions. Most Bareback riders have begun wearing a neck brace of sorts to prevent their head from whipping back and thus preventing many concussions. Some Bull riders have begun wearing helmets to save them from concussions if they are jerked down on a bull’s head or if they are stepped on. Another prevention measure being taken by rough stock riders are that they have started wearing mouth guards; a mouth guard helps prevent their jaws from jamming and transmitting the shock to the base of the brain. They also absorb much of the impact delivered to the jaw that can occur not only in rodeo but any contact sport. A mouth guard also helps prevent dental injury. (Dr. Dale Butterwick)

There are many complex problems that can occur from repeated concussions. There are physical impairments such as speech, vision, hearing, lack of motor coordination, seizures, and paralysis. Cognitive impairments can occur such as short and long term memory loss, impaired concentration and perception, slowness of thinking, and writing skills. A third area in which impairments can occur is Psychosocial- behavioral-emotional, impairments in this area include fatigue, mood swings, denial, self-centeredness, anxiety, depression, lowered self-esteem, sexual dysfunction, restlessness, lack of motivation, difficulty with emotional control, inability to cope and excessive laughing or crying. A concussion can also cause death. (, 2003) So as shown a concussion is an extremely dangerous injury that is vary common in rodeo. A concussion can cause serious side affects and can end careers. The people who do not take enough time to rest after a concussion, which is the only real cure, could end up seriously injured or even dead. So please give a concussion the appropriate rest so you can return to competition at 100% and not rick further problems.

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The High Risk of Concussions in the Dangerous Sport of Rodeo. (2022, Nov 19). Retrieved from