Riding The Adrenaline Rush: Extreme Sports

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Extreme athlete engage in skydiving

Whether it’s flying through the Swiss Alps in a wingsuit, riding a Baja wave, or skiing down the Rocky Mountains, extreme sports are practiced each and every day across the globe.

In celebration of the X-Games (held in Minneapolis from July 19-22, 2018), we’ve dug into the history and science behind extreme sports, and why their popularity will only continue to grow in years to come.

What Makes A Sport Extreme

The general characteristic of what makes a sport extreme is that the event involves high speed and high risk. Other defining characteristics include elevated heights, extensive physical exertion, spectacular stunts, and the element of real or perceived danger.

Though many extreme sports are less well known (such as zorbing, barefooting and XPogo), there are many extreme sports that you may have tried, whether you’re a daredevil or not! Scuba diving, wakeboarding, water skiing, surfing, white water rafting, skiing and snowboarding are all actually classified as extreme sports.

The Origins Of Extreme Sports

Surfer catching a wave

One of the earliest origins of extreme sports is found in surfing, which originated as a leisure activity in Polynesia, with witness accounts dating back to 1769! Parachuting has origins in the 1930s, when daredevils began to compete in the sport. However, most other extreme sports didn’t grow in popularity until the 1960s and 1970s. For example, windsurfing appears to have originated with the establishment of a company called ‘Windsurfing International’ in California around 1968.

California was the breeding ground for numerous extreme sports! Come 1976, California was also home to the world’s first skateboarding park, in Carlsbad! Other extreme sports soon followed, including skiing and snowboarding.

This all came to a head with the birth of the X-Games, created by ESPN in 1995. These games were (and continue to be!) so successful, that they have brought more awareness to extreme sports, eventually leading to sports like mountain biking, BMX, and snowboarding being included in the Olympic Games! Skateboarding, surfing and climbing will also make their Olympic debut in the Summer 2020 Games in Tokyo!

The ‘daredevil’ aspect of extreme sports also has a unique history! One standout example is a group called ‘The Dangerous Sports Club,’ which was formed by a group of wealthy friends at Oxford University. The group would perform stunts in black tie, and are widely credited with being the first to exhibit bungee jumping in 1979… without any preliminary testing!

But extreme sports aren’t all about outlandish stunts! Rather, there is a driving force and ambition behind extreme athletes that inspires them to take these risks. Let’s dig into what drives athletes to go to extremes.

The Driving Force Behind Extreme Sports

What drives individuals to take risks and engage in extreme sports? Is it passion for their sport? A biological instinct? Sports psychologists have undertaken thorough investigations to answer this very question! The most prevalent answer is adrenaline. Individuals who enjoy the feeling of an adrenaline rush naturally gravitate towards sports that provide them with this feeling. But what is an adrenaline rush, exactly?

An adrenaline rush is a full-body response (involving your brain, nervous system and adrenal glands) to a perceived threat, which allows your body to physically respond relatively instantaneously. The rush happens when the adrenal gland is stimulated through stress, brought on by things like extreme sports!

Though adrenaline is the main element sought by extreme athletes, the reasoning behind engaging in often dangerous sports will depend on the individual. For example, some say that extreme sports have grown in popularity due to modern technology, or to enjoy a distraction from the mundane aspects of daily life.

But extreme sports should not be thought of as just something done by daredevils! In fact, there have been some instances where extreme sports have been used as therapy. One example of this is US Army veterans, who have used high-adrenaline activities as a means of replacing the adrenaline rush produced during war. Some veterans suffering from PTSD have taken up MMA boxing as a means of therapy. Extreme sports have also benefited individuals suffering from mental illness such as depression.

Health Considerations For Extreme Athletes

Woman rock climbing

Unsurprisingly, with great adrenaline comes great risk. However, what’s key is awareness of the major risks associated with each sport, so that athletes can mitigate that risk with the proper equipment. Active & Safe Central is an organization that is dedicated to providing athletes of all ages and all levels of physical activity with the information they need to practice their sports safely! According to their database, here are the most common injuries for some extreme sports: 

  • Climbing: Hand/Finger/Wrist, Shoulder, Elbow, Knee, Ankle, Foot
  • Mountain Biking: Arm, Internal Organ, Lower Leg, Shoulder, Face, Head, Neck, Groin
  • Snowboarding: Elbow, Wrist, Shoulder, Back, Neck/Head
  • Skiing: Head/Neck, Shoulder, Back, Thumb, Knee, Ankle
  • Skateboarding: Head, Ankle, Elbow, Wrist
  • Scuba: Trunk, Lower back, Chest, Head
  • Surfing: Head, Shoulder, Arm, Wrist/Hand, Trunk, Ankle
  • Wakeboarding: Head, Arm, Back/Trunk, Leg
  • Water Skiing: Head, Shoulder, Back/Trunk, Ankle

One of the biggest concerns for numerous extreme sports are concussions. Studies have found that as more and more individuals begin to participate in these sports, the higher the concussion incidence rate becomes. In some cases, head injuries in action sports can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is commonly associated with football.

Tools like the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT) can make a world of difference when it comes to detecting concussions. The SCAT assessment compares post-injury scores to pre-season baselines to quickly detect if something is off with the athlete. Mobile-friendly Athlete Electronic Health Records (EHRs) like Presagia Sports enable this process to happen even faster! Presagia Sports has the SCAT3 (soon to be SCAT5!) assessment built right into the system, allowing for sports medicine professionals to perform the assessment right on the field. Because, when it comes to concussions, early detection is everything.

Here are a few of our concussion-related posts that could be of interest to you:

5 Alternative Concussion Recovery Tips You Probably Didn’t Know About

Concussions 101: The Importance of Awareness

6 Product Categories That Could Change The Game For Concussions

The Future Of Extreme Sports

It seems as though extreme sports are here to stay! In fact, they’ll likely only continue to grow in popularity! Some argue that by 2020, extreme sports will be watched about as much as professional and collegiate sports are. With innovations like GoPro and YouTube, it’s very easy for extreme athletes to record and disperse their footage to a large audience. Of course, with considerations such as climate change, many sports will be threatened, such as surfing, and skiing, although innovation will likely find a way around this.

All of this means that it's important for athletes and sports medicine professionals to understand the common injuries and risks associated with their sport, so that they can mitigate them to the best of their ability.

This post is a summary of common extreme sports, their history, and health considerations. It is meant solely as an information piece. Presagia Sports is in no way encouraging or condoning the participation in extreme sports.