Juggler's World: Vol. 39, No. 1

Those Nagging Little Bumps and Bruises

by Christian Meuli, M.D. & Lyndall Meuli, Ph.D.

With the increasing interest in juggling and sports medicine in the past decade, we decided to study the incidence of injuries in jugglers and find out how they deal with them. In the process, we gathered some other interesting demographic data we will share with you here.

At the IJA's 39th Annual Convention in San Jose last summer, 418 confidential questionnaires were passed out and 136 were returned to us, for a 33 percent response rate. This amounts to approximately 13.6 percent of all jugglers at the convention. Unless otherwise specified, percentages in this study are figured from the total 136 respondents. Note also that not all respondents answered all questions.

Seventy-three percent of respondents were male with an average age of 30.2, and 22 percent were female with an average age of 29.3. The average convention juggler has been juggling for 6.8 years, with 87 percent reporting they are "serious" jugglers (although some wondered what this question really meant!). Here are some charts of responses we received to questions dealing both with injury and with juggling in general:


        Balls   percent
        Ten        1
        Eight      2
        Seven     15
        Six       10
        Five      41
        Four      21
        Three     10

        Clubs   percent
        Seven      1
        Six        2
        Five      19
        Four      35
        Three     44

        Rings   percent
        Eight      1
        Seven      6
        Five      26
        Four      17
        Three     39

Concerning injuries, 97 (71 percent) reported a total of 173 acute injuries over their careers, with 32 (24 percent) never having had an injury. Fortunately, only 4 percent of these injuries kept jugglers from doing their thing for more than two days, and there were no hospitalizations reported. The 173 acute injuries included:

        Injury            percent
        Bruises             51
        Sprains & strains   20
        Cuts                 7
        Burns                5
        Blisters             4
        Fractures            2
        Miscellaneous       10

The fractures included a broken arm when an entertainer fell off stage, two fractured index fingers (one doing triple-spin back crosses and the other one juggling bowling pins), and one broken nose passing clubs.

Broken down by anatomic areas, these 173 injuries involved:

        Area              percent
        Fingernails          6
        Index finger         5
        Fingers             16
        Thumb                3
        Hand                24
        Wrist                9
        Face and head        6
        Eye                  9
        Nose                 3
        Teeth                3

A full 63 percent of all acute injuries occurred between the wrist and the fingertips. The vast majority of these particular injuries were due to club passing, but an important subset resulted from catching the wrong end of something that was either burning or sharp. It should also be noted that all 16 eye injuries were relatively minor and consisted of bruises (87 percent) and cuts (6 percent).

Fortunately, anecdotal tales of detached retinas incurred while passing clubs and other horrible tragedies were not documented by this questionnaire. Since we would anticipate that people with injuries would be the most likely to fill out and return the questionnaire, these tales of terror may well be exaggerated.

It should also be noted that we spoke with many jugglers at the convention who were kept from juggling by injuries acquired doing other things (like injuring wrists doing handstands or various unicycle injuries) which were not picked up on the present questionnaire.

Thirty-seven respondents reported recurring pains while juggling, including:

        Area              percent
        Wrist               24
        Fingers and hands   22
        Elbow               16
        Neck                11

This is very interesting since elbow, back and neck injuries were rarely injuried acutely while juggling. Improved posture and technique while juggling may help alleviate many of these recurring pains.

Of all the remedies reported, jugglers found almost all them helpful, including:

        Remedy            percent
        Rest                13
        Stretching           8
        Ice                  6
        Massage              5
        Medications          5
           (usually anti-inflammatory agents)

Less than 1 percent used heat, technique changes, exercise, casting, or gloves while practicing. It is very interesting that no jugglers reported using compression or elevation in treating acute injuries.

When asked who they sought for advice for juggling injuries, most of them were self-treated (31 percent), a few sought professional advice from a doctor (5 percent), a chiropractor (3 percent), an osteopath (1 percent), a sports medicine therapist (1 percent) a medical book (1 percent), and no response (58 percent).

When asked "Was there any reason you started juggling?" they replied:

        Answer                             percent
        For the fun of it                    18
        Friends did it                        8
        Seemed interesting                    7
        Psychological relaxation/escape       4
        Boredom                               4
        Improve coordination                  4
        Challenge                             3
        To show off                           3
        Just wanted to learn                  3
        Saw a juggler on TV                   2
        To perform in a play or experiment    2
        Other reasons                         7
        No reason                             7
        No response                          29

When asked "What were the circumstances when you started?" they responded that they were:

        Circumstance                       percent
        Self-taught                          16
        By a friend                          15
        In classes or workshops               8
        Out of a book                         7
        Taught by a relative                  6
        Learned for a role in a performance   2
        Learned through a juggling club       1
        Other situations                      3
        No response                          41

Do you ever perform?

        Where             percent
        Stage               33
        In the streets      32
        In homes            24
        In businesses       19
        In malls            18
        In night clubs      14
        In schools           7

Twenty-nine percent charge a fee if they can, and 21 percent pass the hat when it is appropriate. A total of 29 (21 percent) reported being self-supporting for an average of 3.8 years, and 12 more hope to become self-supporting some day.

We learned that 38 percent of all jugglers stretch and 24 percent juggle slowly in simple patterns to warm up before practicing. Of the 79 performers, 48 percent stretch and 42 percent juggle before performing.

When asked about other aspects of their physical lives, jugglers are quite an athletic group. Seventy-six percent participate in regular aerobic activity, and 47 percent meet the American College of Sports Medicine's recommendation for weekly aerobic exercise (at least 30 minutes of vigorous exercise three times a week). 81 jugglers averaged 4.2 hours of aerobic exercise. Sixty-two percent stretch at least weekly, with 29 percent stretching daily. All of these figures are above and beyond the average 7.9 hours per week the average respondent juggles!

When asked "Do you use juggling to help you deal with emotional stress?" 60 percent said yes, 25 percent said no and 15 percent didn't respond. The positive respondents included the following fill-in-the-blank answers: relaxing, or takes my mind off things (32 percent), meditation (11 percent), concentration (7 percent), aversion during finals or at work (6 percent), and to relieve physical stress (5 percent).

When asked if they felt guilty if they didn't juggle regularly, an amazing number answered "yes" if they didn't juggle daily (20 percent), weekly (35 percent), monthly (10 percent), and yearly (7 percent). Twenty-one percent never feel guilty about not juggling.

When asked what jugglers would like to learn about each other, the majority wanted to know what occupations most other jugglers pursued. Many wanted to learn exercises and practice routines to help them learn new tricks and increase their numbers and endurance juggling.

In conclusion, we find an extremely high injury rate (71 percent) among jugglers, but these injuries are almost entirely benign in nature and self-limited in scope. The worrisome injuries are the recurring tendonitis and overuse injuries which, if repeated over the years, can lead to permanent disability. With 63 percent of all injuries occurring to the hand, fingers (especially the base of the index finger) and the wrist, it would be interesting for jugglers to try to design a supple, light-weight catching glove to use while practicing club passing.

Some of the crazy things jugglers do as acrobats, unicyclists, or even as jugglers (four bowling balls gave one of them a hernia!) often lead to injuries that affect our basic juggling. These correlations would be interesting. As a battered veteran of 12 years of collision sports, I personally find juggling quite safe, and rejoice in knowing that I'll be able to juggle through my elder years.

We thank all of those who took the time and interest to fill out these questionnaires. We hope to do more surveys in the future. Your comments and questions are welcome.

(Chris Meuli, from Los Lunas, New Mexico, is a family physician working in Isleta Pueblo for the Indian Health Service. His spouse, Lyndall, is teaching and doing research in physiology at the University of New Mexico.)

Those Nagging Little Bumps and Bruises / Index, Vol. 39, No. 1 / jis@juggling.org
© 1996 Juggling Information Service. All Rights Reserved.