The average annual rate of catastrophic injuries from
pole vaulters landing in the vault box has more than tripled during the past
decade, despite rule changes in 2003 that have markedly reduced the number of
catastrophic injuries and fatalities from pole vaulters missing the back or
sides of the landing pads.
Researchers prospectively collected data on catastrophic
pole vaulting injuries in the United States from 2003 to 2011. To determine the
frequency of landing in the vault box, researchers surveyed 3,335 pole vaulters
and compared results with those from the National Center for Catastrophic
Sports Injury, Internet searchers and communication with the National Pole
Vault Safety Committee and the Pole Vault Safety Certification Board.
Study results showed 19 catastrophic injuries occurred
with 74% of pole vaulters landing in or around the vault box, when an athlete
landed off the sides or back of the landing pad (21%) or when the pole broke
(5%). At a combined high school and college level, the average annual incidence
of direct catastrophic injuries was 2.0 per 100,000 pole vaulters. Fifty-eight
percent of pole vaulters experienced major head injuries, 21% pelvic fractures,
5% brain stem injury and 5% thoracic injury. Compared to a previous study, the
annual fatality rate decreased from 1.0 to 0.22, according to researchers.
In the pole vaulters survey, 77.2% of pole vaulters
landed in the vault box one to three times, 15.92% never landed in the vault
box, 6.12% landed in the vault box four to six times and 0.84% landed in the
vault box seven or more times. The study found 3.03% of pole vaulters who
landed in the vault box at least once required medical attention. The most
frequently injured sites included the ankle (24.62%), heel (19.23%), lower back
(12.31%) and knee (8.46%).
Potential preventive strategies that require
additional research include developing materials with appropriate shock
absorption capability for the box collar, padding the sides and bottom of the
plant box and making the vault box narrower, the researchers wrote in
their study. The dimensions of the box collar and the pole, especially
the stiffness and proper grip heights, as well as the ideal position for the
crossbar, also require additional study.