Want to Try Using an E-Bike or Scooter? Read This First
Accidents are on the rise. An ER doctor and a physical therapist tell us how to prepare and prevent injuries
You’ve seen them buzzing around the city. Scooters and e-bikes are everywhere. They’re a low-cost option compared to a car and much more environmentally friendly, but riding a scooter or e-bike is not the same as riding a bike. In fact, it’s almost nothing like riding a bike.
These machines have different mechanics and require different preparation, mentally and physically, to ride safely. Yet many people hop on them without a second thought.
“Electric scooters and bikes can be dangerous,” says Baruch Fertel, MD, an emergency medicine specialist. “If someone is not wearing a helmet and they hit a pothole or crack in the sidewalk, or a lamppost, or if somebody hits them, the impact to the brain and the skull can be devastating.”
He notes many people often do not have a helmet handy because they rent using an app, not at a kiosk or store.
Studies show a link between the increase of scooter-share programs and an increase in emergency room visits. Fractures and other orthopedic injuries are common. Burns and head injuries are, too.
Fertel says he’s seen people with terrible head injuries, from concussions to catastrophic brain bleeding. He’s also seen mangled hands and injuries from electric fires because of improper storage and improper chargers.
How to avoid the emergency department
Above all, Fertel recommends using only approved chargers and plugs, as well as always wearing a helmet. “A burn is painful, takes a long time to heal, and can result in permanent disfiguration and loss of function,” he says.
He also suggests only adults and young adults use electric scooters and bikes. No children because of balance and strength limitations.
And absolutely no alcohol. Adding alcohol to a ride increases risk in part because it makes people act riskier.
“I'm not saying not to use scooters. I'm saying use the scooter safely,” says Fertel. “Everything can be dangerous. the key is to take basic safety precautions. And wearing proper protective equipment goes a long way.”
Above all: Remove distractions. No headphones, no devices. Be alert.
How to avoid preventable injuries
Crashes and falls are not the only events that land scooter riders in medical care. Prachi Shah Bakarania, DPT, Co-Director of the Columbia Orthopedics Non-operative Spine and Scoliosis Clinic and spine physical therapist, sees many patients with neck and back pain, before and after riding.
“The head must be upright so people can see where they’re going. If a bike is not ergonomically set for them to allow for a more stacked and aligned spine, or if they’re not using an upright bike (like Citi Bike), injuries, low and mid back pain can happen,” says Dr. Bakarania.
Her team does a lot of educational work working on mobility, specific strength training, and postural awareness work with patients to maximize their alignment, as well as training to know if a shared bike is ergonomically correct for each person’s needs.
Warning: Knowing what’s best for your body might mean using a different scooter or bike. And it definitely means moving more throughout the day.
Stiff body parts are bad
“We all have stiff backs and necks because of the devices we use,” says Dr. Bakarania. Constantly looking down at keyboards and phones creates problems for scooter and bike riders, electric or otherwise.
Additionally, many people sit for a living so their hips and pelvis are fixed, too. That is a lot of compression to a spine that needs movement to be healthy and mobile.
Further, says Dr. Bakarania, when it gets cold, people put their hands in their pockets and don’t move their arms as much, this also contributes to stiffness in the trunk.
Stiffness, also called tightness, limits mobility to turn, something vital when sharing the road with countless other people and vehicles. Plus, stiffness can contribute to overall pain.
And that’s not all. A strong core, hip, and upper body will allow a person to maintain a more aligned posture. This will lead to a more stable posture and less wriggle in their posture, where accidents can easily happen. regularly seated person’s core, hips, or shoulders are generally not strong. So, they are less stable and wiggle more on a scooter or bike. An accident waiting to happen.
“When your back tells you it's hurting or something is feeling stiff, you need to listen,” says Dr. Bakarania. “A lot of people hope pain will go away on its own. Sometimes it does, but it's worth having a trained medical professional look at overall ergonomics and posture before an accident happens.”
Spend that time exercising or simply moving your body parts can make a big difference. Oftentimes, you do not need to spend hours in the gym to feel looser and stronger. Short-duration stretches, resistive strengthening exercises a few times a week, and becoming more conscious of your overall posture can go a long way to prevent these injuries.
“I still want you to ride scooters and bikes and use the peloton, but also get in some walking and other weight-bearing movement,” says Dr. Bakarania.
Baruch Fertel, MD, is an Associate Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine at CUIMC. Prachi Shah Bakarania, DPT is Co-Director of the Columbia Orthopedics Non-operative Spine and Scoliosis Clinic and spine physical therapist at CUIMC.