"My 11-year-old daughter is all into things circus-related and figured out how to ride a unicycle at 7. She has always worn a helmet, but none of her peers or her coaches/instructors advocated wearing a helmet," study leader Dr. Marvin L. Wang, co-director, neonatology-newborn services at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, said in a statement.
"This study sets the stage to ask the question about whether or not helmets are actually needed while unicycling."
Unicycles first appeared in the late 18th century, but riding unicycles has boomed over the last 10 years. What used to be isolated within the circus domain is now practiced by many, from unicycle conventions and races to training centers like the "Montpelier Unicyclists" in Vermont.
The study was conducted using data collected from 1991 to 2011 by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a sample of approximately 100 U.S. emergency departments that report consumer-related injuries.
The study, published in The Journal of Emergency Medicine, found during the 20-year study period, there were an estimated 3,360 patients treated for unicycle injuries, averaging 168 injuries per year. Of those patients, young teenagers ages 10-14 accounted for 40 percent of the injuries.
Almost 33 percent of injuries were fractures, followed by strains and sprains at 28 percent. There were six documented head or neck injuries, all of which occurred among patients younger than age 18 and only three injuries -- all of which were fractures -- required admission to a hospital, the study said.
Overall, the study revealed U.S. unicycle injuries were relatively infrequent and rarely required hospital admission. While helmet use is encouraged for anyone participating in any wheeled activity, more research is needed to understand the underlying mechanisms of unicycle injuries in order to confidently advocate for helmet use requirements while unicycling, Wang said.