Can we do more to prevent youth sports injuries?

More young athletes are playing sports than ever before. The National Council of Youth Sports claims that 44 million kids participate in at least one organized sports activity. And while this surge is encouraging for so many reasons, it has also contributed to one worrisome trend. Injuries are skyrocketing.

As a sports medicine physician and orthopaedic surgeon, I, and others like me, can certainly treat injured athletes. But as I have mentioned previously in my columns, I believe that part of our responsibility to athletes is to try to prevent these injuries from happening in the first place.

Just over one year ago, the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine partnered with many other health care and sports organizations to create the STOP Sports Injuries campaign. As chairman of the Public Relations Committee for AOSSM and a member of the STOP Sports Injuries Steering Committee, I want to get the word out. And when Safe Kids USA, one of the founding organizational supporters of the campaign, asked me to participate in an upcoming event, I enthusiastically agreed.

A short column like this one doesn’t give me nearly enough room to discuss all of the possible injuries and their ramifications, let alone to offer prevention strategies. Instead, I want to offer some frightening statistics. I fully expect that I will receive a number of emails from naysayers claiming that we are “wussifying” sports and that they played through pain with no consequences. While those anecdotal stories might seem convincing, these statistics suggest that we are confronting a real and serious problem.

Sports injuries account for 4.3 million hospital emergency department (ED) visits annually in the United States.
-Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Tweet this statistic.

A young athlete spends an average of 326 hours of practice time under the supervision of a coach during one athletic season, dwarfing time spent with teachers.
-National Athletic Trainers’ Association

Nearly 50% of all injuries sustained by middle school and high school students during sports are overuse injuries.
-American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

In recent years, overuse injuries have quadrupled, and half of all pediatric sports injuries contribute to burn out.
-Positive Coaching Alliance

Approximately 50 percent of overuse injuries in children and adolescents are preventable.
-The American College of Sports Medicine

Girls involved in organized sports have an estimated injury rate of 20 to 22 per 100 participants per season, while boys have a risk of 39 per 100 participants per season.
-National Athletic Trainers’ Association

Surgeons are seeing four times as many overuse injuries in youth sports compared to five years ago.
-Dr. James Andrews, former AOSSM President and renowned orthopaedic surgeon

70-80% of athletes who begin playing a sport at an early age drop out by age 15.
-The Center for Kids First

62 percent of organized sports-related injuries occur during practices rather than games. Despite this fact, one-third of parents often do not take the same safety precautions during their child’s practices as they would for a game.
-National Safe Kids Campaign

Although football is most often associated with blunt trauma, these injuries can occur in most sports, including soccer.

Approximately 2 out of 5 traumatic brain injuries among children are associated with participation in sports and recreational activities.
-National Youth Sports Safety Foundation

21% of youth athletes say they have been pressured to play with an injury.
-National Youth Sports Safety Foundation

If these statistics concern you for the safety of your young athlete, I encourage you to join us Sunday, August 7. The Safe Kids Trident Area coalition will hold its second Youth Sports Safety Seminar at the Joe Riley Park. Physicians and sports medicine personnel will offer prevention information and answer questions from coaches of middle school and high school football, soccer, and tennis, as well as parents and young athletes. Please come join us to learn how you can prevent overuse and traumatic sports injuries.

Do you have a youth sports injury you would be willing to share? Let me know about it!

Note: The following column appears in the August 3, 2011 edition of The Post and Courier.

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david-headshot I am an orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in Charleston, South Carolina.

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