Hospitalizations for cycling injuries in Canada increased by 25 per cent during the pandemic, according to data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
CIHI, a non-profit organization that tracks hospitalizations and emergency visits across the country, reported last week that between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, the overall number of injury hospitalizations dropped across Canada but hospitalizations for cycling injuries increased by more than 1,000.
According to Tanya Khan, manager of clinical administrative databases operations for CIHI, the trend occurred in all jurisdictions, across age groups and genders. The only exception was Saskatchewan, which did not see an increase in cycling-related hospitalizations.
“Although our data doesn’t capture why exactly this happened, it’s possible that some of the public health measures had an impact,” she told CBC News Tuesday.
Many indoor leisure activities were shut down to limit the spread of COVID-19 in 2020 and Canadians were encouraged to practice social distancing. Bicycle shops reported strong sales and many cities opened temporary bike lanes during the boom.
“People still wanted to spend time outside and they may have tried new activities, like cycling, that they may not have necessarily tried in the past, and this may have resulted in the increased injuries,” Khan said.
In Alberta, hospitalizations for cycling injuries increased by 37 per cent. The province’s 813 cycling-related hospitalizations represented about 15 per cent of the total across Canada.
The data does not distinguish between patients who are transferred from one facility to another or readmitted, so the numbers don’t capture the number of people who sustained cycling injuries, just the number of visits and hospitalizations.
‘Face-first into the ground’
Brent Busch was one of thousands of Canadians who sustained a cycling injury during the pandemic.
Busch said he started cycling more frequently in 2020 to lose weight and one July morning, a vehicle driver ran into him while he was riding between sidewalks in his north Edmonton neighbourhood.
“I saw the vehicle coming, I braced for impact, and boom. Went over the handlebars, went face-first into the ground,” he said Tuesday.
Police officers on the scene told him both he and the driver were at fault for the collision, since he had been riding on the sidewalk and the driver failed to check before proceeding through the intersection.
Paramedics took him to Sturgeon Community Hospital in St. Albert, where he had his thumb stitched up.
Busch said he rides more carefully now. He bought a helmet immediately after getting out of the hospital and no longer rides on sidewalks.
Physiotherapists treat cycling injuries
Giri Srinivasan of InStep Physical Therapy in central Edmonton, said he noticed an increase of clients coming in with cycling injuries in July 2020.
He said many people bought new or used bikes because they were frustrated with public health measures and wanted to spend time outside.
He said most of his clients with cycling injuries hurt their necks, shoulders or backs, but some strained their thumbs or developed knee problems.
Srinivasan said cycling-related injury visits to his clinic remain high. He suspects beginner cyclists have become more adventurous during the past year and have started experimenting with mountain biking.
“They gained confidence and they wanted to do more,” he said.
Steven Cindric, a physiotherapist at south Edmonton’s Reach Sports Physiotherapy and Hand Clinic, said drivers’ behaviour is likely another contributor to the rise of cycling-related injuries.
“Vehicles are not necessarily observing and watching cyclists,” he said.
Of the 140 cyclists involved in an injury or fatal collision last year, nearly 70 per cent were struck by drivers while they were following the rules and had the right of way, according to the City of Edmonton.
Cindric speculated that fewer protected bike lanes in Alberta, compared to other provinces, could be one reason why Alberta saw a steeper increase in cycling injuries.
Other sports injuries
Khan, of CIHI, said there was also a nationwide increase of injuries involving all-terrain vehicles and skateboards. She said injuries related to other sports, including hockey, skiing and snowboarding, decreased.
“These were probably a result of public health measures, but we’re unable to see through the data,” she said.