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High School Football Has Highest Severe Injury Rate

Overall injury picture

Here's the big picture on high school sports injuries:

  • Over 7 million students participate in high school athletics every years.¬†

  • Nearly four out of ten of all non-fatal, unintentional injuries among high school students that result in emergency room visits are sports-related.

  • High school athletes suffer an estimated 2 million injuries every year, resulting in 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations.

  • Of these injuries, an estimated 446,715 (14.9%) are severe enough to result in the loss of 21 or more days of sports participation, with almost 6 in 10 (56.8%) resulting in medical disqualification for the remainder of the season.

Football still tops the danger list

Not surprisingly, and confirming the findings of previous studies, a new study finds that high school football players are at the greatest risk of severe injury (0.69 per 1,000 "athletic events"),1accounting for fully 4 out of 10 (38.1%) of all severe injuries suffered in the nine sports studied.

Examining data from 100 nationally representative high schools on injuiries during the 2005 to 2007 school years, researchers at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital's Center for Injury Research and Policy in Columbus, Ohio also found:

  • the most commonly injured parts of the body were the knee (25.8%), shoulder (14.2%) and hand/finger (10.3%);
  • the most common diagnoses were fracture (38.2%), incomplete ligament sprain (14.3%), and complete ligament sprain (10.7%);
  • 7 out of 10 (69.3%) of severe injuries were the result of player-to-player contact;
  • 3 in 10 (29.8%) of severe injuries occurred to the player being tackled while 1 out of 5 (20.8%) were to player making the tackle.

The findings are reported in the September 2009 issue of The American Journal of Sports Medicine.

"Finding ways to decrease the incidence and severity of sports-related injuries is critical to keeping kids playing sports long-term and reaping the benefits that organized athletics provides, " said Dawn Comstock, PhD, a co-author of the study and assistant professor at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

"Efforts to prevent or lessen the injury severity in football and wrestling [the sport accounting for the second-most severe injuries in the study] are crucial," said the study authors, "because these sports accounted for a disproportionately large proportion of severe injuries."

  1. An "athletic exposure" is defined as a high school athlete participating in one practice or game.

Source:  Am. J. Sports Med 37, no. 9 (2009);1798-1805.