Every 25 seconds, or 1.35 million times a year, a young athlete suffers a sports injury severe enough to go to the emergency room, according to a new research report released today by Safe Kids Worldwide. Affiliate program Safe Kids Springfield is led by the trauma services department at Mercy Hospital Springfield.
The report, “Game Changers,” made possible with support from Johnson & Johnson, takes an in-depth look at data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) to explore what type of injuries are sidelining young athletes.
According to the report that studied the 14 most popular sports, concussions account for 163,000 of those ER visits, or 12 percent. That's a concussion-related ER visit every three minutes. Surprisingly, it is not just high school athletes suffering concussions; athletes ages 12 to 15 make up almost half (47%) of the sports-related concussions seen in the ER, a statistic made even more disturbing by the knowledge that younger children with concussions take a longer time to recover than older children.
The report also revealed that knee injuries account for one in ten sports-related injuries. Knee injuries, specifically tears to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), are disproportionately affecting young female athletes, who are up to eight times more likely to have an ACL injury than male athletes.
"We uncovered some disturbing data about how often kids in our community are being injured playing sports," said Daphne Greenlee, Safe Kids Springfield and trauma outreach coordinator for Mercy Hospital Springfield. “But we also found inspiring stories from people and programs that are making a marked difference.”
The study details both the types of injuries and the rates of injuries for the most popular sports. Not surprising, in 2011, the sport with the most injuries is football, which also has the highest concussion rate. Wrestling and cheerleading have the second and third highest concussion rate. The sport with the highest percent of concussion injuries is ice hockey.
The report also includes profiles of some communities, sports leagues, and individual athletes who are taking a proactive stance in order to turn these statistics around.
Safe Kids Springfield and our partners are calling on community members, coaches, parents, sports leagues and athletes to implement four overarching strategies that are making a difference:
- Get educated, then pass it forward. A common theme among parents and young athletes who are struggling with recovering from an injury is that they wish they knew sooner what they know now. Attend a sports clinic, talk to your sports medicine provider, or go to www.safekids.org to find out how to keep kids safe and then tell your friends.
- Teach athletes injury prevention skills. Instill smart hydration habits, warm-up exercises and stretches to prevent common injuries. Understand stress placed on muscles particular to the sport (pitching arm, knees, etc.) and target exercises to those areas. Encourage athletes to get plenty of rest.
- Encourage athletes to speak up about injuries. Too often, athletes feel like they are letting down their teammates, coaches or parents if they ask to sit out due to an injury. The truth is, it takes more courage to speak up about an injury that can have serious and long-term effects.
- Support coaches in injury prevention decisions. A Safe Kids Worldwide 2012 survey found half of coaches admit to being pressured by a parent or athlete to keep an injured athlete in the game. Coaches need to be educated and supported in making decisions that protect the immediate and long-term health of young athletes.
“Education and prevention are key to most sports injuries, including concussions,” said Dr. Brian Mahaffey, Mercy Clinic Sports Medicine specialist, head team physician for Missouri State University and team physician for the St. Louis Cardinals. “Our goal is a team approach with athletes, parents, coaches, athletic trainers, and other medical providers, which has been shown to be effective in keeping children safe and healthy during sports.”