Study: Bungee Jumping Is Safe

By Ira Dreyfuss, Associated Press Writer
Copyright 1998 Associated Press
May 24, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A healthy man or woman can go take a flying leap, according to researchers who studied injuries among bungee jumpers.

"A jump, if performed under carefully controlled conditions, appears to be relatively safe and causes only minor, transient medical complaints," said a report in the medical journal The Physician and Sportsmedicine. It's the first wide-ranging look at injuries in this activity, said Dr. Craig C. Young, the lead author.

The research found 42 jumpers had a total of 59 minor medical complaints. All the injuries healed in a week, with the exception of lacerations to one jumper who tried to grab the platform as he was going down.

"The guy was just launching, and decided he didn't want to go, and reached back to the platform and got scraped," Young said.

The study was done at the Wisconsin State Fair in 1994 by researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. They asked 200 jumpers to take part, and 100 agreed. The average age was 26; 74 were men and 26 were women.

Strictly speaking, the study's findings would only apply to young, healthy adults, Young said. But the jumps seemed to be safe enough to go a bit beyond that, he said. "If a person is healthy, with no disease processes, they would not have a problem no matter what their age was," he said.

Each jumper fell from a platform 130 feet above the ground and bounced from a flexible cord attached at one end to the platform and at the other to their ankles. Each paid $59 for this privilege.

The most common complaint afterward was dizziness; 21 people had it. There were seven reports of blurred vision, six each of headache and ankle pain, and one each of chest pain, bruising, leg numbness, laceration and anxiety.

In terms of daring, bungee jumping apparently is more show than risk, the study said. "Bungee jumping may seem like a death-defying act with high injury potential," but the flexible cord cushions the fall, it said. Parachutists and pole vaulters actually have a harder jolt, it said.

And even the study's injury total looks worse than it is, commented Peter Kockelman, president of Gravity Works, Mountain View, Calif., a bungee jump platform owner unconnected to the project.

Dizziness accounted for the lion's share of the problems, and dizziness should be expected, Kockelman said. "They have been hanging for a minute," he said. "I challenge anyone to hang upside for a minute -- unless they are a gymnast -- and not have the blood rush to your head."

Jumpers can reduce even the minor risks by approaching the event with caution, said orthopedic surgeon Bruce Browner, although he said he had seen no patients with bungee jumping injuries.

"The first thing to focus on is the selection of the bungee jumping outfit you choose to go with," said Dr. Browner, chair of orthopedic surgery at the University of Connecticut, Farmington. This is no time to accept sloppy substitutes, he said.

The study, with which Browner was not affiliated, also cautioned jumpers to find "well-qualified professionals who are conscientious about their customers' well-being and the proper use and maintenance of equipment."

Poor equipment, maintenance or procedures can leave the jumper injured, crippled or dead, the study said.

Similarly, a jumper should keep his or her body as close as possible to hanging directly head down, Browner said. The chances of getting a neck strain or other injury would be expected to go up with other positions, in which the body can be whipped around, he said.

The study found a good deal of prejump lubrication. Forty-five had drunk alcohol before launching themselves into space; the average was almost three drinks, it said.

"I think in a few cases that's why they went up," Young said. "They were kind of drunk and someone said, `Why don't you do that?' and they said, `OK." However, the study did not examine that question.

Bungee jumping is apparently safe enough to do even after drinking, provided the jumper still understands the nature and possible consequences of the act, Young said.

However, orthopedic surgeon John F. Sarwark cautioned that alcohol can affect reaction times. This could throw off the jumper's ability to stay head-down and control the flailing that typically comes on the bounce, said Sarwark, of The Children's Memorial Hospital, Chicago.

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