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Sports-Related Hospital Visits on the Rise Among Young People


WebMD Health News

March 5, 2001 -- Growing numbers of young Americans seem to be participating in a wide range of sports. Unfortunately, a lot of them are winding up in the emergency room as a result of sports-related injuries such as fractures, sprains, and strains.

Sports-related injuries are responsible for 2.6 million visits to the nation's hospital emergency departments among people aged 5-24 -- at a cost $500 million annually. Sports-related injuries in this age group are 68% of the total 3.7 million sports-related emergency room trips among people of all ages, according to a report published in the March issue of Annals of Emergency Medicine.

The answer is definitely not spending more time on the couch instead of the playing field. Instead, experts tell WebMD, mandatory requirements for cyclists to wear helmets, softer baseballs, and even efforts aimed at decreasing poor sportsmanship may help players derive more benefits from exercise -- without any of the pitfalls.

"I was surprised by how big these things are," says lead author Catharine Burt, EdD, the chief of ambulatory care statistics branch at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics in Hyattsville, Md. "There are about 7,167 emergency rooms visits a day in America by people aged 5 through 24 for sports-related injuries. That's a lot.

"The good news is that people are participating in sports and other recreational activities because that is healthy, but we don't want them ending up in the emergency room," she says.

The physical and psychological benefits of participating in sports outweigh the risks. Regular physical activity helps participants look better and feel better by raising levels of high-density lipoprotein, also known as HDL or 'good' cholesterol, building muscles and bone, and controlling weight. Participation in organized sports also helps develop social skills, and studies have shown that regular exercise can improve moods.

According to the new data, one in four emergency room trips among this age group is for a sports-related injury, and the rate is twice as high for males than females, Burt says. Highest on the list of sports causing the injuries were basketball and cycling.

Even with all we know and do about preventing injuries, "there is a lot that can still be done," she tells WebMD.

For example, she says, a recent survey showed that only half of bike riders wear helmets even though helmets have been shown to reduce head injuries by about 85%. "Lots of states don't have laws about wearing helmets, but in states where there are laws, there is more compliance and presumably fewer injuries," she says. "Helmets are also useful for skiing, skating, and skateboarding."

There are 245,000 ER visits each year due to baseball- and softball-related injuries. "That's 671 per day averaged over the whole year," she says.

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