Nearly 5% of Youngsters Suffer Sports Injuries, Study Finds

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March 6, 2000 (New York) -- Despite advances in preventing sports-related injuries, including laws requiring helmets for bicyclists, new research suggests that nearly 5% of urban teens and preteens suffer at least one sports injury serious enough to require medical attention -- most often from falling or from striking an object like a basketball goal.

Still, experts say, the benefits of playing sports far outweigh the risks. And parents can help keep their future Michael Jordans and Brandi Chastains safe by making sure they take the precautions needed for their sport of choice -- including using the right equipment -- and by ensuring that the playing area is safe and adequately supervised, experts say.

In the March issue of the journal Pediatrics, a research team from Washington, D.C., reports that 17% of all sports-related injuries to the more than 2,000 teens and pre-teens studied occurred in six sports: basketball, bicycling, football, skating, soccer, and baseball/softball. The researchers were led by Tina L. Cheng, MD, PPH, a pediatrician at Children's National Medical Center in Washington.

While no one in the study died, 2% of all the injuries resulted in hospitalization. Overall, 16% of emergency room visits and 20% of hospitalizations were related to either equipment or poor field or surface conditions, suggesting that many injuries are preventable.

"There are certain precautions that parents should take when their kids are participating in certain sports," Cheng tells WebMD. For example, she says, "when children go bike riding, they must wear helmets, and they should have an appropriately sized bike with padding on the center bar. Parents should supervise bikers as well as where they are biking."

Cheng's study looked at all emergency room visits for sports-related injuries among 10- to 19-year-olds from 1996 to 1998 in six Washington hospitals.

Overall, boys were more likely to be injured than girls, the study found. Of those injuries requiring hospitalization, 51% involved collisions, assaults, or other contact with other people; 12% were related to equipment; and 8% involved poor field or surface conditions, the study showed.

Of baseball injuries, more than half involved ball or bat impact to the head, and the researchers suggest that better head protection may be needed in that and other sports. Among basketball players, common injuries included hitting the basketball pole or rim or being struck by a falling pole or backboard, which suggests a need for padding or breakaway posts, the researchers say.

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Among football players, 48% of injuries occurred when a player was struck by an opponent's helmet, and 9% involved inappropriate field conditions, including falls on or against concrete, glass, or fixed objects.

In a related article in the same journal, the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness report that as soccer increases in popularity, more information will be needed to find out what measures are needed to protect players of that sport. "When it comes to soccer, we need more work to understand what protective gear soccer players need and what rules the game needs to change to protect players," Cheng says.

In the soccer article, researchers report that bruises to the legs were the most common injuries. But they also found many injuries involving the goalpost. From 1979 to 1993, they say, falling goalposts accounted for 27 injuries, including 18 deaths.

"Because soccer-related fatalities have been strongly linked with head impact on goalposts, goalposts should be secured in a manner consistent with guidelines developed by manufacturers and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission," they write.

One expert, Lewis G. Maharam, MD, sports medicine specialist in New York and the president of New York chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine, points out that while precautions are crucial for youngsters who play sports, "it's far worse to be a sofa spud than to be out there exercising."

"With any sport, there's a chance of getting hurt," Maharam says. "Just as you would wear a bike helmet or have a safety seat in the car for children, certain equipment can protect kids in certain sports." For example, in-line skaters should wear wrist pads, knee pads and helmets, and tennis players should have proper shoes and a racquet of the correct size, he tells WebMD.

"The best advice for parents," he says, "is to make sure their kids are properly equipped for the sport they play."

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