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Guide To Prevention & Treatment of the 5 Common Motorcross Injuries

Motocross injuries

Photo taken by Appic

Injuries are common in motocross (MX) and off road motorcycle sports. Research has shown that motocross puts the body under extreme stress and the risk of injury is high. Most motocross injuries occur during race events, but since the advent of freestyle motocross (FMX), injuries during tricks and ‘big air’ stunts have become more common.

Research has shown that 95% of motocross riders have sustained an injury. In fact injuries are so common in motocross that riders accept that an injury at some stage is inevitable. Most motocross injuries occur during a crash or fall. Because of the speed of the bike the resultant forces are high and injuries can be extremely serious. There are numerous reports of fatalities and spinal cord injuries in motocross riders.

Men are injured far more frequently than women during motocross. The majority of those people who are injured are under the age of 25. All areas of the body can be damaged following a motocross crash or fall, although the upper limb is injured more frequently than the lower limb.

Most motocross injuries occurred at a bend in the track, although landing from a jump is another activity that carries a high risk of injury. Because of the high injury risk, protective equipment is essential. Read our guide to learn more about injury prevention in motocross.

1. Broken Collarbone

The collarbone or clavicle is one of the most frequently broken bones in the body. A broken collarbone (broken clavicle) is an extremely common shoulder injury in motocross riders. A broken collarbone usually occurs during a fall from the bike when the rider falls onto an outstretched hand. The force transmitted up the arm is often enough to cause the collar bone to break.

What can you do to prevent a Broken Collarbone?

Try not to fall! Be aware that over 50% of motocross injuries occur at bends and be extra vigilant when cornering. Look out for other bikes and try to anticipate danger as these are the obstacles that can cause a collision or fall. Walking the course prior to the event is essential to help you anticipate areas of the track that could be a problem. If you stay clear of bunches at trouble spots then you can often pick up a few places as other riders collide.

What should you do if you suffer a Broken Collarbone?

Any suspected fractures should be assessed and treated at hospital. You can apply ice packs (never apply ice directly to the skin) to the shoulder for pain relief. Pain killing drugs prescribed by a doctor can provide relief for the intense shoulder pain. A figure of 8 shoulder support and sling can immobilise the shoulder and provide pain relief.

Once the treating doctor is satisfied that the collar bone is sufficiently healed then shoulder range of movement exercises can be progressed to gradually increase shoulder movement. These exercises may be a little uncomfortable, but with some encouragement from a physiotherapist this discomfort should quickly resolve as normal movement returns. Shoulder strengthening should then begin using resistance bands to regain full function.

2. Broken Wrist

A broken wrist is common following a fall on an outstretched hand. A Colles fracture is a fracture of the radius bone of the forearm, just above the wrist. There is a great deal of wrist pain. The wrist displays a characteristic ‘dinner fork’ when viewed from the side. This is accompanied by wrist swelling and, as a result of the fracture, an inability to use the wrist and hand. Suspected wrist fractures require assessment by a doctor and an x-ray to confirm the diagnosis.

What can you do to prevent a Broken Wrist?

Staying on the bike is the best way to prevent wrist injuries. Having a sensible race strategy based upon your assessment of the course and the pre race briefing can help you to steer clear of trouble. Remember that bends and landing from a jump are the most common causes of a ball from the bike and also the time that most wrist fractures occur.

Protective equipment can lessen the impact of a fall if you do come off the bike. Wrist guards should always be worn as they significantly reduce the incidence of wrist injuries during falls.

What should you do if you suffer from a Broken Wrist?

If a wrist fracture is confirmed on x-ray, the initial treatment will be supervised by the doctor in the emergency department. If the two fragments of broken bone are shown to be close together, and well aligned, the treatment is simply to immobilise the wrist in a cast for 6 weeks. Depending on the preference of the treating doctor it may be possible to use a removable cast from two or three weeks so long as the x-ray shows that the bone is healing well.

Once the cast is removed, physiotherapy exercises using therapeutic putty, hand therapy balls and finger strengtheners can add strength to the muscles around the wrist and resolve wrist swelling. In the period following the removal of the plaster it may be helpful to wear a wrist support when not doing the exercises.

3. Acromioclavicular (AC) Joint Sprain

The acromioclavicular joint (AC joint) is part of the shoulder complex. It is situated at the outer side of the collarbone where it is attached to the front of the shoulder blade with strong ligaments. An AC joint sprain (shoulder separation) refers to damage to these ligaments. The AC joint ligaments are most commonly damaged through a fall onto either the tip of the shoulder or a fall onto an outstretched hand.

What can you do to prevent an AC Joint Sprain?

Similar to a broken collarbone – try to make sure you don’t fall! A sudden stop that throws the rider over the handlebars is a common cause of a shoulder separation. Try to avoid riders who may fall in front of you because if your front wheel comes to an abrupt, halt then you’re likely to go flying over the front of the bike.

A shoulder support can help to prevent all types of shoulder injuries – they’re essential if you have a history of a shoulder separation, AC joint sprain or dislocated shoulder.

What should you do if you suffer an AC Joint Sprain?

Apply ice packs (never apply ice directly to the skin) to the shoulder for pain relief. Pain killing drugs prescribed by a doctor can provide relief for the intense shoulder pain. A figure of 8 shoulder support and sling can immobilise the shoulder and provide pain relief. When returning to activity a shoulder stabiliser will provide support and protection that can help to prevent re-injury.

4. ACL Rupture

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is deep within the knee joint, connecting the thigh bone with the shin bone. Its function is to prevent excessive forward movement of the shin in relation to the thigh and also to prevent excessive rotation at the knee joint. The ACL is usually injured when landing from a jump onto a bent knee, or landing on a knee that is over-extended. Riders without an ACL find it extremely difficult to control the bike, particularly when landing jumps.

What can you do to prevent an ACL Rupture?

A high quality knee brace can be effective in reducing the risk of an ACL injury. If you’ve ever suffered a knee injury during Motocross then you’ll appreciate that prevention is better than rehab – high quality knee bracing is the number one method of knee protection.

High quality knee braces can prevent the expense and stress caused by anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) ruptures, medial collateral knee ligament (MCL) injuries, meniscal tears and cartilage injuries. If you’re already injured then a knee brace can be used throughout the rehabilitation period, from the initial injury until your return to racing.

What should you do if you suffer an ACL Rupture?

All ACL injuries require the opinion of an orthopaedic consultant. During the immediate aftermath of an ACL injury the PRICE treatment protocol is most effective. This is an acronym for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. A cryotherapy cuff is the most effective method of providing ice therapy and can be used for the home treatment of knee injuries and knee pain. It can provide continuous ice cold water and compression for 6 hours to significantly reduce knee pain and knee swelling. If the knee is unstable following an ACL injury then reconstruction surgery is required. This is followed by a 6 month rehabilitation programme with a physiotherapist.

5. Broken Ankle

Ankle fractures are named depending on the exact location of the fracture line. Lateral malleolus and medial malleolus fractures can occur in isolation or together (bimalleolar fracture), or with fractures of the back of the tibia (trimalleolar fractures). 

A broken ankle may occur as a result of direct contact, either with another rider or your own bike. In some cases it may be due to an awkward landing.

What can you do to prevent a Broken Ankle?

If a bike lands on your ankle you can’t do a great deal about it. Riding sensibly can help, but the most important thing is to make sure that you’re fit enough to ride. If your fitness is good then you can concentrate throughout the race and you’ll be less likely to make mistakes as fatigue is the cause of many accidents. An ankle brace can also help to reduce the risk of ankle injury.

What should you do if you suffer a Broken Ankle?

Any suspected broken ankle needs to be urgently transferred to hospital for assessment by a specialist trauma doctor. ‘Open’ fractures, where the bone fragments push through the skin, are patently obvious but all serious ankle injuries require a full assessment and an x-ray evaluation.

After a period of immobilisation in a plaster or removable plastic cast, the doctor will indicate that the fracture has healed sufficiently. Rehabilitation under the supervision of a physiotherapist is essential. Ankle pumping exercises are excellent for restoring ankle range of motion and these can be progressed to resistance band exercises to build strength around the ankle.