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Sports-Related Hospital Visits on the Rise Among Young People

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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.

Baseball season is about to begin, and Burt suggests that as many as one-third of baseball injuries could be prevented if players used such protective equipment as softer-than-standard baseballs, modified safety bases that protect players when they slide, and football-type helmets to protect players' faces.

"Parents need to be more careful and make sure [their kids] have and use safety equipment," Burt says. "When you buy a bike, spend the extra money to buy a helmet."

Ice skating, roller skating, and skateboarding resulted in 150,000 trips to the ER among people aged 5-24, while gymnastics and cheerleading were responsible for 146,000 ER visits among people in this age bracket.

People is this age group racked up 100,000 emergency hospital visits each year due to water and snow sports, and playground-related injuries resulted in 137,000 emergency visits each year. The data were taken from the 1997 and 1998 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.

"Protecting our children from injuries is the key," says CDC Director Jeffrey P. Koplan, MD, MPH, in a written statement. "Helmets, the right equipment, better safety practices, and instruction can all help reduce these preventable and oftentimes serious injuries. Participation in sports and recreation games and activities should lead to better health and greater physical fitness, not a visit to the emergency department."

"We emphasize not pressuring kids to specialize too early," says Jim Thompson, founder and director of the Positive Coaching Alliance, a nonprofit group based at the Stanford University Department of Athletics. "A lot of injuries result because such kids use the same muscles over and over again, and the resulting repetitive stress injuries may be responsible for emergency room visits."

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