By John Salak –
Walking a dog for a walk may not be as relaxing as it seems. It might be downright dangerous, which is pretty frightening since more than 50 percent of households in America own a dog.
What may be particularly startling is that traumatic brain injuries were the second most common dog-walking-related incidents adults were treated for in emergency rooms over the last 20 years.
This depressing news came by way of researchers at Johns Hopkins University. While surprising to some, dog walking injuries are more common than many realize and are usually the result of overexcited dogs yanking hard on their leashes, causing the walker’s arm to be violently jerked, according to the Sports Hand Surgery Institute.
Johns Hopkins research gathered deeper insights on the range, frequency and most common demographic targets of injuries by analyzing related emergency room visits in the 20 years. They discovered over 420,000 emergency room visits tied to dog walking accidents during this time, and women and older adults over 65 most likely to be involved.
The team also found that related annual injuries quadrupled during this 20 years period. The researchers attributed the increase to dog ownership and the growing interest in walking dogs for personal exercise.
“Dog ownership also increased significantly in recent years during the COVID-19 pandemic,” noted the study’s first author Ridge Maxson, a third-year medical student at Johns Hopkins. “Although dog walking is a common daily activity for many adults, few studies have characterized its injury burden. We saw a need for more comprehensive information about these kinds of incidents.”
The analysis revealed that about half of all patients were adults ages 40 to 64 and that 75 percent of patients were women. Most injuries occurred due to falling after being pulled by, tangled in a leash or tripping over a leash connected to a dog. The three most common injuries were finger fractures, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and shoulder sprains or strains. Older adults were most likely to suffer TBI and hip fractures.
TBIs covered concussions and nonconcussive internal head injuries, including a bruise of the brain tissue, epidural hematoma (bleeding above the brain’s outer membrane) and subdural hematoma (bleeding beneath the brain’s outer membrane).
“Clinicians should be aware of these risks and convey them to patients, especially women and older adults,” says Edward McFarland, M.D., the study’s senior author and director of the Division of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “We encourage clinicians to screen for pet ownership, assess fracture and fall risk and discuss safe dog walking practices at regular health maintenance visits for these vulnerable groups.”
The Johns Hopkins team noted that they weren’t discouraging dog walking for elderly owners or encouraging them to let their dog off a leash. They just advocated awareness and safety.
The Sports Hand Surgery Institute offered up some suggestions for lowering the risk. The institute suggests, for example, holding a leash in the palm of a hand to lessen the possibility of injury while maintaining a strong grip.
The group also advises wrapping a leash around a hand or wrist, using a short leash for better control, avoiding walking a dog while on a bike or skateboard and wearing shoes that provide traction and stability.