Football Leads Youth Sports Injuries

But Head Injuries Strike Many Other Young Athletes, Too

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on July 26, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

July 26, 2007 -- Two new studies highlight the risk of youth sports injuries that student athletes may experience on the playing field.

One of the new studies focuses on football injuries in high school and college football players. The other study tracks traumatic head injuries in various sports.

Sports injuries can do more than sideline a player for a season. Some injuries, including traumatic brain injuries, can have effects that last a lifetime.

The bottom line: Don't play hurt, and don't try to shake off an injury to get back in the game. Seek medical attention instead.

Football Injuries Studied

The new study on football injuries appears in The American Journal of Sports Medicine.

Football is the top scorer when it comes to racking up sport-related injuries, according to the study. But high school and college players may face very different injury risks.

Researchers found high school football players suffered more than half a million injuries nationwide during the 2005-2006 season. And they were more likely to suffer season-ending injuries, such as fractures and concussions, than those who play collegiate football.

But college football players were nearly twice as likely to become injured during practice or a game compared with high school players.

Football Facts

Football is one of the most popular sports in the U.S. and is played by more than 1 million high school athletes and 60,000 collegiate athletes.

Previous studies have shown that football has nearly twice the injury rate as the next most popular sport, basketball. Yet researchers say this is the first study to compare injuries among high school and collegiate football players based on a national sample of more 100 high schools and 55 colleges.

The study found four out of every 1,000 high school football exposures resulted in an injury compared with eight out of every 1,000 collegiate football exposures.

But high school football players suffered a greater proportion of serious, season-ending injuries like broken bones and concussions, which accounted for about 10% of all injuries among high school players.

Other findings of the study include:

  • Linebackers and wide receivers were the positions most likely to suffer season-ending injuries among high school players.
  • Among college football players, offensive linemen suffered the most injuries, but the running back position had the greatest proportion of injuries for any one position.
  • The most common injuries among both high school and college football players were ligament sprains.
  • The lower leg, ankle, and foot were the most commonly injured body parts playing football.

Football Injuries May Be Preventable

“While football does have a high rate of injuries, injuries don’t have to be just part of the game,” says researcher Christy Collins, MA, research associate at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Columbus Children’s Research Institute, in a news release. “There are ways to reduce the number and severity of football injuries through targeted interventions.

“Because we observed high levels of ankle and knee injuries, we recommend increased conditioning of ankles and knees and rule changes aimed at protecting these vulnerable body sites. As most of the injuries to these regions were due to ligament sprains, targeted stretching exercises may also be beneficial.”

Sports-Related Brain Injuries

The second study on sports injuries comes from the CDC.

The study shows that children and teens aged 5-18 account for nearly 60% of people treated for sports-related traumatic brain injuries at U.S. hospitals from 2001 to 2005.

That translates to almost 135,000 kids and teens in that age range who went to emergency departments due to sports-related brain injuries during the years studied.

Activities associated with the greatest number of those emergency department visits were bicycling, football, basketball, playground activities, and soccer, according to the CDC.

The findings, which come from a U.S. hospital database, don't show whether the patients were wearing helmets while biking or playing football.

The CDC urges athletes, parents, and coaches to seek medical care for any brain injury, even those that seem relatively mild, due to the risk of lingering effects.

Athletes shouldn't return to play without approval from a doctor or health official, the CDC also notes.

"These injuries are very serious and should never be ignored," says CDC Director Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, in a CDC news release.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Shankar, P. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, August 2007; vol 35: 1295-1303. CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, July 27, 2007; vol 56: pp 733-737. News release, Columbus Children’s Hospital. News release, CDC.

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