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Soccer Sends More Than 100,000 Kids to ER Annually

Boys and middle schoolers most likely to be seriously injured, suggests study

THURSDAY, Feb. 1, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- While youth soccer is generally considered a safe sport, more than 1.6 million U.S. children ended up in the emergency room during a 13-year period due to soccer-related injuries, new research shows.

The study, which appears in the February issue of The American Journal of Sports Medicine, included injuries that occurred during both organized and non-organized soccer play. Researchers found that nearly 60 percent of the injuries were sustained by boys and about half occurred in children between the ages of 10 and 14.

"Soccer is a relatively safe sport, especially compared to other sports. We want kids to play, but we also want them to be as safe as possible," said study author Christy Collins, a research associate at the Center for Injury Research and Policy, part of the Children's Research Institute at Columbus Children's Hospital, Ohio.

During the study period -- 1990 to 2003 -- the number of high schoolers playing soccer more than doubled from 305,102 to 658,817, the researchers noted. Collins said accurate estimates of how many younger children are playing are harder to come by, because there's no national database of soccer organizations. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that 11.4 percent of youngsters were involved in youth soccer in 1990, and that that number rose to 21.8 percent by 2003, according to background information in the study.

For the study, Collins and her colleagues examined data from the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which is made up of 100 nationally representative hospital emergency departments.

They found that just under 1.6 million children between the ages of 2 and 18 sustained soccer injuries serious enough to require an emergency room visit during the study period.

Boys were the most likely to be injured, with 58.6 percent of the injuries occurring in males. Youngsters between the ages of 10 and 14 had the highest rates of injuries, sustaining 49 percent of all injuries.

While boys sustained the majority of the injuries, the rate of injuries rose faster among girls. The researchers suspect that this may be because more girls are now playing soccer.

The most common injuries were to the hand, wrist or fingers, followed by ankle injuries and knee injuries. Girls were more likely to sustain ankle and knee injuries and to have sprains or strains than boys.

In older players -- those aged 15 to 18-- concussion was the most common injury and often occurred due to collisions with other players or from falling to the ground.

Even the littlest players weren't immune to injuries. Kids aged 2 to 4 sustained more injuries to the face, head and neck than older players. And the youngest players were most likely to be hospitalized for their injuries. Collins said this may be because doctors may be extra cautious with head injuries sustained by these young children.

"This study is interesting, but it misses a whole group of kids -- those that go see a physician rather than head to the hospital for their injuries. As a sports medicine provider, I see a ton of injuries," said Dr. Cynthia LaBella, director of the Knee Injury Prevention Program and medical director of the Institute for Sports Medicine at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

The bottom line, said Collins, is that injuries will happen when kids play sports. But, many of these injuries can be prevented. Both Collins and LaBella said that kids should wear appropriate protective equipment, depending on the sport. Playing fields should also be even and well-maintained to prevent falls.

Children should be on teams that are not only age-appropriate but size-appropriate. The majority of injuries occurred in the 10- to 14-year-old age group, a time when there is a great variation in children's sizes. Both experts suggested that parents talk with the coach and make sure their approach matches your child's -- for example, whether your child is competitive or just out for some recreational fun.

LaBella stressed that children should never play through pain.

"Kids aren't little adults. They need to give their body time to recover. Kids shouldn't push through pain. Pain is a sign of overuse or an injury," she said.

More information

To learn more about preventing soccer injuries, visit the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

SOURCES: Christy Collins, M.A., research associate, Center for Injury Research and Policy, Children's Research Institute, Columbus Children's Hospital, Ohio; Cynthia LaBella, director, Knee Injury Prevention Program, and medical director, Institute for Sports Medicine, Children's Memorial Hospital, Chicago; February 2007 The American Journal of Sports Medicine
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