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Injuries Don't Deter Young Athletes

While nearly half do get hurt, most injuries are mild, study finds

THURSDAY, April 21, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A new British study finds that a decade after playing sports at a highly competitive level, many young athletes -- especially soccer players -- have suffered injuries related to their sport.

Relatively few of those injuries are serious enough to put an end to an athlete's game, however.

"Sports participation, even at the elite level, doesn't seem to be terribly injurious. Very few young athletes stop because of an injury," said study author Dr. Nicola Maffulli, an orthopedic surgeon at Keele University School of Medicine in Stoke-on-Trent, England. He said most injuries were minor, involving strains of the joints.

Dr. Alejandro Posada, chief of sports medicine at the University of Miami School of Medicine, called the findings "useful information, but I'm not really sure it's that surprising."

He said the new data should be "good for parents," however. "They can have peace of mind to learn that if their children compete in sports -- even at very high levels -- they might have some injuries. But they don't have to be career-stopping injuries."

Maffulli's team published their findings in this week's issue of the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

The researchers pored over data from the Training of Young Athletes (TOYA) study that tracked 453 highly competitive young athletes, aged 8 to 16, from between 1987 and 1992. Ten years later, a total of 203 of the study participants responded to a follow-up questionnaire focused, in part, on the incidence of injuries.

Nearly half of the respondents said they had sustained at least one sports-related injury. However, among the 94 people who no longer played their sport, just 15 (about 16 percent) cited injury as the reason they had stopped.

Maffulli and his colleagues found that the soccer players, all male, had the most injuries, with nearly two-thirds (63.6 percent) reporting injuries, mostly to the lower body. They were followed by gymnasts, nearly 52 percent of who reported at least one injury -- usually to the back -- during a decade of playing the sport. Next came tennis players, half of who said they'd suffered an injury, typically to the shoulder. Swimmers were the least prone to injury of any group in the study, with just over 28 percent reporting injuries.

Not surprisingly, researchers found a correlation between the level of athletic competition and the rate of injury among those who were still active after 10 years, with those competing at international or national levels of competition -- which requires more intensive training -- having a significantly higher rate of injury than those who described themselves as recreational athletes.

The rate of injury among these top competitors was 87.5 percent, although the researchers note the study contained only eight athletes at this level. By comparison, 47.1 percent of the now-recreational athletes reported having an injury during the previous decade.

The researchers found that, among athletes still active in the sport they played as a youth, just 14 were competing at the international or national level.

"Being an elite athlete when young was not a predictor of whether they will be a high-level competitor when they are older," Maffulli said.

Furthermore, the decision to stop a sport was not primarily related to injury, the researchers found, but to other factors.

"There seemed to be a 'burnout syndrome,'" he said. "Some of the athletes wanted a bit of social life, or when they got older they realized there was more to life than practicing their sport."

In another study of athletes and sports injuries, researchers at McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) in Montreal found that football players are more than twice as likely to suffer neck injuries than hockey or soccer players.

Reporting in the latest issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that football players suffered from neck injuries, such as serious fractures and dislocations, at a rate of 5.85 per 10,000 players, compared to neck injury rates of 2.8 per 10,000 players for hockey players and 1.67 per 10,000 soccer players.

More information

Helpful information for young athletes can be found at American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

SOURCES: Nicola Maffulli, M.D., professor, trauma and orthopaedic surgery, Keele University School of Medicine, Stoke-on-Trent, England; Alejandro Posada, M.D., chief, sports medicine, University of Miami Medical School; April 2005 Archives of Disease in Childhood; April 15, 2005, British Journal of Sports Medicine
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