Orthopedic surgeon explains common racing injuries

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Race car

It is May in Indianapolis and that means only one thing, time to gear up for what is known as ‘the greatest spectacle in racing’, the Indianapolis 500.  Every year thousands of people head to Indianapolis to fill the stands of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and even more tune in on television to root on their favorite driver.

However, what most people might not think about is the safety of the drivers and the injuries they might experience.  Every time a racecar driver takes off in his or her car, whether its IndyCar, NASCAR or dirt track racing, the driver is taking a risk.

Many people think of racing injuries as big traumatic events, but there are quite a few smaller, less publicized injuries.

“There are a lot of overuse injuries to wrists, hands and elbows, especially on road or street courses where the driver is fighting the wheel the entire race,” said Dr. Kevin Scheid, OrthoIndy orthopedic surgeon, Orthopedic Consultant for the Indy Racing League and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Similarly, the pit crewmembers frequently have overuse injuries to the back, elbows and knees.”

Thanks to the improvements in car safety, severe injuries are less frequent. Because more races are on road courses, versus oval courses, minor injuries are more common. However, Dr. Scheid explained that when there is a severe crash, spine, leg and head injuries are the most common.

When a major injury occurs, the driver’s injury is stabilized at the track hospital or in a helicopter transit to the local trauma center. After a full assessment is completed, any urgent orthopedic procedures are performed. If the driver is from out of town they are usually transferred home for further reconstructive procedures. In rare cases this can involve up to 10 additional surgeries.

According to Dr. Scheid, recovery depends on the type of injury. With multiple extremity fractures or spine fractures, or even both, a driver can be out of a car for two to four months and sometimes even longer. Fortunately, they heal and rehabilitate quicker than the average person due to their health and mental drive.

There are precautions a driver can take to avoid injury. “Nearly all drivers have realized that working out regularly is a big help,” said Dr. Scheid. “Fatigue and secondary weakness or lapse of attention can be responsible for mistakes that cause accidents. Therefore none of them smoke, most don’t drink and all work out regularly.”


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