Can Spinning Cause Concussions in Skaters?

By Sabina Kuriakose
|  Wednesday, Feb 12, 2014  |  Updated 11:44 AM EDT
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A top Connecticut researcher is investigating whether spinning puts skaters at risk for concussion symptoms.

A top Connecticut researcher is investigating whether spinning puts skaters at risk for concussion symptoms.

Spectacular spins are a hallmark of figure skating, and no one was better at them than Lucinda Ruh—otherwise known as the “Queen of Spin.”

“Spinning became a part of who I am. I’m a spinner, then I’m Lucinda,” recalled Lucinda.

Lucinda was a world class figure skater. As her moniker suggests, spinning was her trademark. She spun for hours nearly every day, from the age of four until she was twenty. But Lucinda now fears those spins may have been too much for her body.

“It was devastating. For 5 years I felt like I was going to die. I still have symptoms here and there,” she said.

Doctor after doctor could not diagnose her health problems, according to Lucinda, until one physician finally traced her symptoms to her skating.

“He put all the pieces together and said, ‘I think you’ve been suffering from concussions, ongoing little concussions every single day’ and that was causing all my symptoms,” said Lucinda.

Her case caught the attention of Dr. David Wang, a sports medicine expert with the Elite Sports Medicine division of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

“I can’t go so far as to say it’s exactly a concussion, but it acts an awful lot like a concussion,” Dr. Wang told us.

Inspired by Lucinda’s case, he began researching whether spinning induces concussion-like symptoms in skaters.

“I wanted to prove whether or not this was safe, and I wanted to see where the problems are, and as with baseball pitchers having a pitch count for how many times they can throw, is there a limit to how much someone can be spinning before they’re left with symptoms that don’t go away,” said Dr. Wang.

We first told you about Dr. Wang’s research two years ago. He took us back onto the ice for a look at his latest results. Dr. Wang has found some spins may actually be more dangerous than others. For example, the layback spin, in which the skater’s head is thrust away from the axis of the body, subjects the head to greater G forces.

“When you go into the spin, you can imagine it’s like a centrifuge. You’re pushing the blood into your head. That’s what usually pops the blood vessels in the eyes and forces the blood going into the head, but when you come out of that spin the blood is drawn right back out of the head and it’s a negative G. That’s when someone falls or faints,” Dr. Wang said.

By attaching a device on his skaters, Dr. Wang is able to measure the force their heads are experiencing as they spin.

“Your vision is eerie, you’re not sure where you are, you have to take a break and be like ‘ok, I’m facing that way [and] I have to go that way next,’” 17-year-old skater Juliette Zielinski told us.

“Probably when I was 12 and started doing more high level spins that’s when I started feeling more of the symptoms of the G forces and all of that,” said skater Kaitlyn Marunda of Wallingford.
Dr. Wang has recorded a maximum of about 2 G forces for most spins.

“Now when you hear about football forces and people getting hit in the head where you’re talking about 80 G’s, certainly that’s a lot more force. But the impact time is much shorter. It’s an instant, where [skaters] they’re holding this force for a period of time and they’re doing it repetitively over and over and over again. So you can imagine it actually adds up,” said Dr. Wang.

Dr. Wang said so far his data shows spinning can induce headaches and dizziness in skaters, but serious concussion-like symptoms are only a concern in extreme cases like Lucinda’s.

His current research proves there are significant forces to the head during spinning. Next, Dr. Wang wants to answer the questions of how much spinning is too much, and whether these symptoms are in fact part of a concussion.

He added skating is safe, but like in any sport awareness is key to preventing injury.

Lucinda’s symptoms have subsided since she stopped spinning, and she hopes this new research will help young skaters avoid the injuries she experienced.

“I would have listened to my body first, and put me as a person first and me as a spinner second,” she told us.

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