PBR and Head Injury Prevention

Bull riding is widely regarded as one, if not the most, dangerous sport in the world.  When a 150-180 pound man comes into contact with a 1500-2000 pound bull, there’s no guessing who is going to end up with the short end of the stick.  Whether a bull intentionally or accidentally bashes a man with his horns or his head or stomps a man into the ground, the injuries received can be minor, major or fatal. 

The Professional Bull Riders Association (PBR) has taken steps to prevent injuries, especially those injuries to the head, in recent years.  Full-faced helmets and vests that consist of high density foam with either a leather or Cordura exterior  are now being worn by most bull riders on tour to assist in preventing injuries.  The most recent contribution to the health and safety of a bull rider is the NeuroCom VSR Sport Balance Machine.  All bull riders on tour must be cleared not only with the standard normal neurologic examination, but now must pass testing with this new device to be cleared to once again compete in the PBR.

Recent research suggests that repeated concussions can have a long-term impact on the brain.  This impact is known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), and is found in many professional and college athletes that participate in contact sports.  Dr. Jeffrey Louie a specialist in pediatric emergency medicine said that “repeated concussions and head injuries can lead to CTE.

The PBR in conjunction with Dr. Freeman has implemented a strict process that prevents riders from disregarding the advice of medical staff on site at PBR events.  According to Dr. Freeman, a rider upon receiving a head injury and being diagnosed with a concussion, will be evaluated to determine the extent of the injury and whether or not transportation  to a hospital is needed.  The rider with a serious concussion or head injury undergoes what is known as a recovery phase in which they rest until they are no longer symptomatic, which means no headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness or other concussion symptoms.  After the recovery stage, the rider can then begin an exercise stage.  As soon as the rider can perform the exercises without developing any symptoms, Dr. Tandy will once again reevaluate him by giving  a full physical exam,  having the rider complete a cognitive function test on the computer, and then require further testing with the newly acquired NeuroCom VSR Sport Balance Machine.

Though safety and testing equipment are being used and new strictly enforced safety rules have been put into place, bull riding along, with other highly physical contact sports, will never be considered completely safe.