U.S. High-School Athletes Suffering Fewer Injuries

Sports-linked woes have fallen by half in 10 years, study finds

THURSDAY, Sept. 28, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Injury rates for U.S. high-school athletes in nine popular sports have declined dramatically over the past 10 years, a new report finds.

"A decade ago, injury rates were at least twice as high. That's a good thing," said the study's lead author, Dawn Comstock, a researcher at Columbus Children's Hospital Center for Injury Research and Policy, in Ohio. The comparison is based on another study which used a slightly broader definition of injury.

"While part of the decrease is due to a different definition of injury, we know that sports-related injury rates are decreasing because of rule changes, improvements in protective gear, and in the diagnosis and treatment of injury," she said.

Overall, the study found that high-school athletes suffered some 1.4 million injuries during the 2005-06 school year, or about 2.4 injuries per 1,000 practices or competitions.

The injury rate was highest in football -- almost double that of other sports.

Nevertheless, these numbers represent a big drop in injury rates in every sport except volleyball from a decade ago, Comstock said.

The study is published in the Sept. 29 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a weekly journal from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Participation in high-school sports is exploding. According to the report, 7.2 million students participated during the 2005-06 school year, up from only 4 million students in 1971-1972.

Despite the obvious health benefits of physical activity, there is a downside: sports-related injuries. Overall, high-school athletes account for an estimated 2 million injuries, half a million doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year. The actual numbers may be even higher, Comstock said.

The High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study was sponsored by the CDC and used an Internet-based system to collect data on nine sports from 100 nationally representative high schools.

The nine sports were baseball, football, and wrestling (for boys); softball and volleyball (for girls); and basketball and soccer (for boys and girls).

During the 2005-06 school year, 4.2 million U.S. adolescents participated in these sports, suffering about 1.4 million injuries that were severe enough that youngsters had to stop playing for a day or more.

The injury rate in every sport was higher in competition than in practice. The majority (80 percent) of injuries were new injuries as opposed to recurrences or complications from previous injuries.

"What this means is that they probably are not over-use injuries or it may be because of the sports they looked at," said Dr. Michael Kelly, chairman of the department of orthopedic surgery and director of sports medicine services at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, N.J. "If you were to look at track and field or cross country, you would see higher recurrence rates." Kelly is developing a sports medicine center specifically geared to adolescents.

Football had an injury rate almost double that of any other sport (4.36 injuries per 1,000 practices or competitions). Overall, wrestling came next with 2.5 injuries per 1,000 practices or competitions, then came boys' soccer (2.43), girls' soccer 2.36, and girls' basketball (2.01). Boys' basketball, girls' volleyball, boys' baseball and girls' softball all had injury rates of less than 2 per 1,000 practices or competitions.

Concussions and fractures were more common in competition than practice. Football, girls' basketball and wrestling had more injuries resulting in more than seven days lost from play. There were no deaths reported.

Overall, the findings present a strong argument for better prevention strategies, Kelly said.

"There are probably certain things in younger athletes that we've yet to define in terms of training, conditioning and coaching on the prevention side," he said. "We think it's an area where there's probably going to be more and more interest in terms of research and prevention. We've done a pretty good job on identifying, diagnosing and treating, but we may have a ways to go in prevention."

"We don't want to make high-school sports look dangerous," Comstock added. "They're a really important way for adolescents to incorporate physical activity. Our goal is to try to identify risk factors for injury, so we can develop prevention, so we can keep kids as safe as possible while playing sports."

More information

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

SOURCES: Michael Kelly, M.D., chairman, department of orthopedic surgery and director, sports medicine services, Hackensack University Medical Center, Hackensack, N.J.; Dawn Comstock, Ph.D., research faculty, Columbus Children's Hospital Center for Injury Research and Policy, assistant professor, pediatrics, Ohio State University College of Medicine; Sept. 29, 2006, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
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