While it may be true that sports builds character, athletic activity also causes damage -- sometimes severe -- to young bodies.
According to a new research report released by Safe Kids Worldwide, 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.
The report, "Game Changers," which received financial support from Johnson & Johnson, uses data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC's) National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) to explore what type of injuries are sidelining young athletes.
Concussions and knee injuries
The report, which studied the 14 most popular sports, found concussions account for 163,000 of those ER visits -- or 12%. That's a concussion-related ER visit every three minutes. And, it's 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 kids.
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 surprising and disturbing data about how often our kids are being injured playing sports," said Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide. "But we also found some inspiring stories from people and programs that are making a marked difference."
Football injuries on top
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 actions some communities, sports leagues and individual athletes who are taking a proactive stance in order to turn these statistics around.
What to do
The report outlines and endorses four strategies that communities, coaches, parents and athletes are implementing to make 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 Safe Kids sports clinic or go to www.safekids.org to find out how to keep kids safe, 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. (Check out this video to strengthen knees and prevent ACL injuries.) 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. 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 confident in making decisions that protect the long-term interests of young athletes.
"Most states have laws to protect young athletes," said Carr, "but the front line of protection for our kids is parents and coaches. Working together, we can keep our kids active, strong and safe so they can enjoy the sports they love for a lifetime."