High School Sports: Football Riskiest?

Football Leads Soccer, Wrestling, Softball, and Other Sports for Injuries in High School Athletes

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on March 21, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

March 21, 2008 -- High school football players are more likely to get injured in practice or competition than high school athletes who wrestle or play soccer, basketball, volleyball, or softball.

That's according to a study published in April's edition of the Journal of Athletic Training.

The study shows that high school athletes get injured more often, and more seriously, during competitions than in practice. Data came from 100 public U.S. high schools in 2005-2006.

The schools' athletic trainers reported 4,350 injuries among student athletes in those sports that year. Those injuries required medical attention by an athletic trainer or doctor and benched the athlete for at least one day.

That works out to an estimated 1.4 million injuries nationally, note the researchers, who included R. Dawn Comstock, PhD, of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

High School Sports Injuries

Here are the study's top three sports for the number of injuries sustained during competition:

  1. Football: 12.09 injuries per 1,000 games
  2. Girls' soccer: 5.21 injuries per 1,000 games
  3. Boys' soccer: 4.22 injuries per 1,000 games

And here are the top three sports for injuries sustained during practice:

  1. Football: 2.54 injuries per 1,000 practices
  2. Wrestling: 2.04 injuries per 1,000 practices
  3. Boy's soccer: 1.58 injuries per 1,000 practices

The ankle was the most frequently injured body part, followed by the head and the upper leg.

Most injuries -- 52% -- were sprains and strains. Bruises accounted for 12%, followed by fractures (nearly 10%), concussions (9%), and other injuries.

In most cases, injured athletes missed less than a week of sports. But 10% of the injuries ended the athletes' season or career.

The intensity and increased physical contact of games may explain why injuries were more likely and more serious during competition than during practice, note the researchers.

Comstock and colleagues suggest training high school athletes to handle those risks -- and to make sure schools are prepared to handle athletes' injuries. Previous research has also stressed the risk of reinjury and the importance of letting injuries heal before returning to play.