Summer 2005

Rx for SuperX Racers

When a supercross motorcycle racer missed a 90-foot triple jump, flew 30 feet into the air and crashed back to earth during a San Francisco competition, it quickly became clear that he needed medical attention. Luckily for him, orthopaedic surgeons from UCSF Medical Center were on hand to evaluate his injuries.

"Due to the exciting, yet extreme nature of this sport, trackside medical attention is a must to keep these athletes safe and performing to the best of their abilities," says Benjamin Ma, M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon at the UCSF Sports Medicine Center. The rider in this case was only superficially injured and was able to participate in later rounds of the THQ American Motorcycle Association Supercross Series, which drew 45,000 fans to SBC Park in January.

Ma and Amir Matityahu, M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon and trauma specialist at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH), worked alongside paramedics at the event.

"Combining trauma and sports medicine is an excellent way to have comprehensive care for these motocross professionals," Matityahu says.

Trauma Common

This is the second year that a UCSF crew has worked at the event with Dr. John Bodnar, an emergency room specialist and medical director for Clear Channel Entertainment Motor Sports, an organization that promotes motocross events worldwide.

Common injuries among motorcycle racers include distal radius fractures, scaphoid fractures, dislocated or broken shoulders, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and other ligament tears, and a variety of other injuries to the hands, feet, elbows, ankles, wrists, back and spine.

"This year, we saw mostly wrist injuries and some clavicle fractures," Ma says. "Last year, we saw a femoral fracture and a major (Laforte 3) facial fracture that required evacuation."

Matityahu notes that at SFGH, a high-volume level 1 trauma center, they routinely treat patients with multiple fractures. "So to us, these fracture patterns are an everyday part of our practice," he says.

Another common condition motocross riders experience is a subclinical compartment syndrome called "arm pump," which occurs as the forearms undergo an increase in intracompartmental volume. This causes the rider to experience pain and increased intracompartmental pressures. Arm pump can cause riders to have less control over their bikes, and can lead to an increased possibility of accidents.

Extreme Sports, Extreme Injury

UCSF orthopaedic surgeons and sports medicine specialists provide medical assistance for many Bay Area events, such as marathons in San Francisco and tennis tournaments in San Jose. The participation of UCSF doctors in the supercross event was encouraged by Ray Buck, a motorcycle racer and a retired director of clinical programs for the UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.

Buck, 61, a former longtime UC employee, is a Missouri native who began racing at the age of 17. He is typical of many motorcycle racers in that he has sustained many injuries. Most recently, Buck, an Alamo resident, suffered three broken ribs after he was hit by another rider in midair during a practice session. Dr. Sigurd Berven, a UCSF orthopaedic surgeon, treated Buck for those injuries. Still an amateur competitor in motocross veteran events and a fourth-place finisher at the 2002 World Vet Championships in San Bernardino, Buck realizes the importance of good medical care on and off the track.

"While this sport is very exciting and includes athletes of all ages and genders flying through the air, it can be hard on the body," Buck says. "For this reason, it's crucial to have qualified physicians and emergency crews trackside in the event of an emergency." He added that sports medicine physicians play a critical role in getting athletes back to racing after an injury.

Motocross for Ma is emblematic of a trend in sports toward more extreme and potentially injurious activities. "It used to be that football was considered the most dangerous sport, but with football you mostly saw muscle, tendon and ligament injuries," he says. "Now kids do these high-energy sports where we see multiple bone fractures."

Matityahu says he has an increased appreciation for motocross athletes. "Supercross riders are young and able to muster an incredible amount of energy in order to get over injuries, he says. The endurance and strength training for this sport is underappreciated."

Dr. Benjamin Ma can be contacted at (415) 885-3810 and Dr. Amir Matityahu can be contacted at (415) 206-8812. To contact the Sports Medicine Center, call (415) 353-7566.

Related Information

News Releases

UCSF One of Top in NIH Research Funding
UCSF was the fourth largest recipient of National Institutes of Health research funding in 2004, receiving a total $438.8 million in the nationally competitive process. The orthopaedics department ranked No. 10 nationally in research grants.

Gold Nanoparticles for Cancer Detection
Binding gold nanoparticles to a specific antibody for cancer cells could make cancer detection easier, say UCSF researchers.