If you’re over age 65 and do jumping exercises, could you end up with a chronic subdural hematoma?

Since this slow brain bleed is caused by damaged bridging veins in elderly people, from hitting the head or the head getting jarred from a fall or fender bender, etc., you may be wondering if a chronic subdural hematoma can be triggered if an older person engages in jumping exercises.

“A little less than 50 percent of chronic subdural hematomas are associated with some form of trauma,” says Kangmin Daniel Lee, MD, a neurosurgeon with North Jersey Brain & Spine Center.

“On occasion the type of trauma is actually quite trivial — whether it is a slight bump against a wall or a ground level fall.

“I have even heard of subdural hematomas occurring in the elderly just from stepping off of a sidewalk.

“The central point is that it does not take a lot of change in momentum to create the acceleration and deceleration necessary to tear a bridging vein.

“This would be exacerbated when patients have excessive atrophy of the brain, i.e., in patients who have dementia.”

Chronic subdural hematoma. Credit: James Heilman, MD

Atrophy means shrinkage. Dr. Lee continues, “Jumping exercises could certainly result in chronic subdural hematoma.”

As a fitness enthusiast who advocates jumping (plyometric) routines for the aging population, as long as there are no contraindications such as osteoarthritis, obesity or cervical stenosis, this cold fact alarms me.

First of all, when I say jumping exercises for senior citizens, I don’t mean hardcore jumping routines that you see young adults engaging in.

A jumping routine for an older person may be as simple as bouncing up and down a little on their toes, to get some impact motion, which will increase bone density and muscle growth.

Another example of a sensible jumping routine for a fitter senior citizen would be leisurely-paced jumping onto a short stool, then back down.

Senior age man doing jumping exercise.

A mini trampoline is another example, providing low-impact exercise.

The reason elderly people are at increased risk for chronic subdural hematoma is because, with age, the brain shrinks, creating more space between the brain and the skull.

This leads to stretching of the bridging veins. Jarring or hitting the head causes the brain to move around within the skull, and this can tear the veins, causing the bleeding.

Research shows that exercise can prevent brain shrinkage (Erickson et al; Kramer et al; Wu et al, and many others).

So my conjecture was that the risk of chronic subdural hematoma — from jumping in senior citizens who’d already had a lengthy history of exercise adherence, particularly jumping routines — would be eliminated.

Dr. Lee responds, “As chronic subdural hematomas generally occur in the elderly, someone young to middle aged would not be at risk.

“In general it does seem that evolution probably plays a hand in creating self-limitations, i.e., those who have had poor overall health and conditioning early in life would have increased brain atrophy later on in life, and therefore be at higher risk for chronic subdural hematomas, but would likely be physically limited and have difficulty with physical exercise anyway.”

So far, this makes sense, and unfortunately, studies are lacking in the investigation of a slow brain bleed developing in the physically fit older population who does jumping exercise.

Again, I reiterate that the population at question here are senior citizens who’ve been exercising for years, the ones you see on ski slopes, backpacking in the mountains, in 5K races, at the Senior Olympics, and in karate classes, as well as “old people” at gyms who demonstrate surprising fitness.

Dr. Lee continues, “Those who are healthy and physically fit early in life would likely have less brain atrophy later on in life and therefore be at decreased risk for chronic subdural hematoma, and ironically would be more capable of vigorous activity.”

dr. lee

Dr. Lee focuses on minimally invasive techniques to treat traumatic and degenerative diseases of the spine and brain tumors. He’s been invited to speak at the regional and national levels on his research areas.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.