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Learn to Be Safe: Teens and Sports Injuries

By: , – Richard Laliberte, Family Circle
11/22/2011 6:00 AM   :  7 comments   :  5,433 Views

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Before 21-year-old Owen Thomas became captain of the football team at the University of Pennsylvania, he was a star athlete in my suburban community, one hour north of Philadelphia. Since age 9 he had  him. Five months later another ripple went through our town when doctors revealed Thomas had CTE—chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain that may cause depression and has been found primarily in athletes with a history of repeat concussions. Former NFL players—including Dave Duerson, who took his life this past February after leaving a note saying he wanted his brain to be studied—are increasingly being diagnosed with CTE. As talk about Owen circulated an alarming number of friends and neighbors had their own stories to share about concussions in young athletes. "It worries me," said a mom whose son is a football captain at our high school. "One boy got a head injury the first week of practice and was out for three weeks. Another quit football after middle school because he'd already had two concussions." 
 
There is a groundswell of awareness about head injuries across the nation; between 1998 and 2008 the concussion rate in high school sports quadrupled. Experts believe the rise is a result of coaches, parents and players who are more likely to report head-banging incidents that may once have been dismissed. In other words, a vast, hidden crisis is now being revealed. "Before, a lot of our statistics were estimates, and were the tip of the iceberg," says Mark Halstead, M.D., assistant professor in the departments of pediatrics and orthopedics at Washington University in St. Louis. "Now athletes and trainers are reporting concussions more often, but they are still an underexposed problem."
 
As it turns out, concussions are just one symptom of a larger issue: Many kids get hurt playing sports. Football players lead the pack in both concussions and overall injuries, sustaining more than half a million a year—including fractures and ligament sprains, according to the Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio. Girls' soccer is second in terms of concussions. But high rates of serious injuries that bench kids for at least three weeks—and sometimes cause more long-term damage—plague sports like ice hockey, basketball and gymnastics. The most common injuries are broken bones and sprains in hands, fingers, wrists, ankles, knees and shoulders. Less frequently reported overuse injuries like stress fractures and tendinitis account for up to half of all sports-related injuries in kids, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
 
All told, CIRP estimates that 1.3 million high school athletes were injured in the 2009-2010 school year. In fact, high school football players have twice as many serious, season-ending injuries as college players, even though college players are injured more frequently. And the estimates are even higher for kids under age 14: about 3.5 million sustained injuries, according to Safe Kids USA. The reason middle school athletes are so vulnerable is that students are developing at different rates. "You could have a small kid against a kid who is much bigger and more physically mature, and that imbalance in size and speed can result in a lot of harm," explains Dr. Halstead.
 
Even more disturbing is that bodily damage seems to be accepted—even expected—by athletes. "The culture of sports says that injury is just part of the game, the unavoidable price kids pay to play," says Dawn Comstock, Ph.D., principal investigator at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "That's just not right. We can do a much better job of making youth sports safer." Organizations such as Little League and Pop Warner try to prevent injuries by controlling factors like number of pitches thrown and grouping players by weight. But some intensive programs and hard-driving coaches still emphasize performance over safety. At an Oregon high school's football training camp in August 2010, for example, 12 players ended up in the hospital with severe upper-arm-muscle injuries after a new coach ordered kids to do strenuous push- ups and chair dips nonstop for four to five minutes.
 
Click here to read more about teen and sports injuries from Family Circle.


Related Articles from Family Circle:
 
·         High Price to Play: How to Make School Sports Safer
·         How to Be a Good Sports Parent
·         When Kids Get Injured, Where Do You Draw the Line?
 
Do your kids play sports? What is your experience with teen sports related injuries?

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Comments

  • 7
    If schools and parents were smart, they would teach kids to play tennis, golf, and to swim - as they are lifelong sports. - 2/8/2012   10:04:12 PM
  • 6
    I played sports my entire life. Non-contact (track and field, volleyball) as well as contact (soccer, taekwondo) sports. Yes, I had some injuries. My worst one was the result of a dirty play that got the opponent kicked out of the league.
    Sometimes injuries happen, but they should be the exception, not the expectation.
    Fortunately for me, I had some amazing coaches, and knowledgeable parents.
    UNfortunately, I see a lot of coaches who have a passion for the game, they know the drills to run, etc. But they have little or no awareness of the in-depth physiology of the human body, safety procedures, body language cues, etc. Or if they do have the knowledge, they ignore it and still teach improper form (like football players tackling with their heads. Wearing a helmet doesn't do as much when you have 2 players crashing their heads together). - 12/1/2011   2:52:02 PM
  • SUJUX1
    5
    As an athlete I understand that there are certain pains that will happen in order to preform or as a result of performance, but there is a limit. - 11/23/2011   5:42:52 PM
  • 4
    Very good information! - 11/23/2011   8:27:28 AM
  • 3
    My son played football at middle school for two seasons, and now he is running cross-country. I am thankful he's had no serious injuries except a pulled muscle when he first started strength and conditioning camp in the summer of 2010 when he tried too much weight. The lesson was learned, and we have been blessed to have him recover. He'll be in marching band next year because my husband and I are not keen on him playing high school football. - 11/23/2011   6:49:39 AM
  • GMAGEE
    2
    Our gym classes (back in the last century!) had us playing all kinds of sports depending on the season - AND we did heavy-duty gymnastics in high school before it became all the rage with little girls - and no one broke bones. Our daughter was in Little League and played basketball in middle school. We expected sprains, bumps and bruises, but broken bones? No. Accidents do happen, but no one should be accepting broken bones as part of the price to pay for playing sports.

    Exercise and sports are not supposed to be torture. Football and soccer may not be appropriate for still-soft craniums, helmets or not. Evidently, it may not be appropriate for adults either. Owen Thomas' story is heartbreaking. He may or may not have taken responsibility for his own safety, but he was most likely encouraged by his coaches to put winning first. - 11/22/2011   9:58:07 AM
  • TRI_TODAY
    1
    Suspiciously missing from this list is that cheerleading has the highest risk of life-altering injury (spinal-damage) than any other sport. I would (gladly!) let my child play football or gymnastics, but I will NEVER let them cheer. Period. Broken bones and thumps on the head are just part of life. You can't be afraid to live (or let your children live) because of fear of injury. The best medicine is protective medicine. Teach them to wear helmets and listen to their body. The goal isn't to keep children from getting hurt, but to teach them to be responsible for their own safety. - 11/22/2011   9:04:08 AM

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