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. Sports safety experts at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, lead organization for Safe Kids Cumberland Valley, offer strategies to help prevent injuries this sports season.
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. There is 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 percent) 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.
In 2011, the sport with the most injuries was 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.
"With the absence of our ability to prevent most concussions from actually occurring, our next and present best line of defense is the prompt recognition and response to concussions in order to minimize severity and prolonged impairment," said Alex Diamond, D.O., assistant professor of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation and Pediatrics. "This is where we really see the value of education as we rely heavily on those in the community trenches such as parents and coaches to have a high index of suspicion and sit their athlete out if there is any concern for a concussion."
The report also revealed that knee injuries account for one in 10 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.
Children's Hospital and Safe Kids Cumberland Valley 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. Attend a Safe Kids sports clinic or go to www.childrenshospital.vanderbilt.org/sportssafety to find out how to keep children 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 prevent ACL injuries.) Encourage young athletes to get plenty of rest.
Encourage athletes to speak up about injuries. Athletes can feel like they are letting down their teammates, coaches or parents if they ask to sit out due to an injury. Encourage athletes to speak up about their injuries to help prevent further injury.
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.
"We all play a role in the well-being of our young athletes," Diamond said. "Therefore, we feel it is vital to empower every individual in the community to help bring about a safer sporting environment and culture for their young athletes, but also for us to provide them with the tools they need to be able to make that difference."
Vanderbilt's Program for Injury Prevention in Youth Sports (PIPYS) and Safe Kids Cumberland Valley have received a sports safety grant from Safe Kids for the last three years to help promote youth sports prevention efforts. A portion of the grant money helped to fund the most recent PIPYS conference for parents, teachers, coaches and healthcare personnel.