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How dangerous is it to be a Cirque du Soleil acrobat?

PainSci » bibliography » Shrier et al 2009
Tags: fun, odd

One article on PainSci cites Shrier 2009: Don’t Worry About Lifting Technique

PainSci commentary on Shrier 2009: ?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.

Cirque du Soleil stunts look dangerous — but how dangerous are they really? This study found that there are a lot of minor injuries, almost ten per show. But less than one acrobat per show is hurt badly enough to miss more than 15 performances — and Cirque du Soleil puts a lot of people on stage. That injury rate is actually “lower than for many National Collegiate Athletic Association sports.”

Apparently being an acrobat is not particularly dangerous. Not in Cirque du Soleil in the late 2000s, anyway.

(Learning circus tricks might be a totally different matter. More recently, a 2018 study of circus arts students found… 184 injuries in 41 students in one year?! 😬 “The burden of injuries is high in this population.” You don’t say! And I thought playing ultimate [the disc sport] was bad…)

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

BACKGROUND: Human circus arts are gaining increasing popularity as a physical activity with more than 500 companies and 200 schools. The only injury data that currently exist are a few case reports and 1 survey.

HYPOTHESIS: To describe injury patterns and injury rates among Cirque du Soleil artists between 2002 and 2006.

STUDY DESIGN: Descriptive epidemiology study.

METHODS: The authors defined an injury as any work-related condition recorded in an electronic injury database that required a visit to the show therapist. Analyses for treatments, missed performances, and injury rates (per 1000 artist performances) were based on a subset of data that contained appropriate denominator (exposure) information (began in 2004).

RESULTS: There were 1376 artists who sustained a total of the 18 336 show- or training-related injuries. The pattern of injuries was generally similar across sex and performance versus training. Most injuries were minor. Of the 6701 injuries with exposure data, 80% required < or =7 treatments and resulted in < or =1 completely missed performance. The overall show injury rate was 9.7 (95% confidence interval, 9.4-10.0; for context, published National Collegiate Athletic Association women's gymnastics rate was 15.2 injuries per 1000 athlete-exposures). The rate for injuries resulting in more than 15 missed performances for acrobats (highest risk group) was 0.74 (95% confidence interval, 0.65-0.83), which is much lower than the corresponding estimated National Collegiate Athletic Association women's gymnastics rate.

CONCLUSION: Most injuries in circus performers are minor, and rates of more serious injuries are lower than for many National Collegiate Athletic Association sports.

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