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Sports and Recreation-Related Injuries

What's the Problem?

As people's participation in organized sport activity increases, so does the rate of sports-related injuries. Recreational activities, including sports, account for an estimated 3.2 million visits to emergency rooms each year for children aged 5-14 years. Injuries from organized and unorganized sports account for 775,000 emergency room visits annually for children in this same age group. Sports-related injuries are the leading cause of emergency room visits in 12-17-year-olds.

Who's at Risk?

Because playing sports involves a certain amount of risk, those who play are at a higher risk for sports-related injuries. Twice as many males as females suffer sports-related injuries. This is due, in part, to the types of sports males and females play. Collision or contact sports have higher injury rates – football, basketball, baseball and soccer account for about 80% of all sports-related emergency room visits for children between 5 and 14 years of age. While teens and young adults experience injuries related to the force they can generate and the intensity of play, children in this age group are less proficient at assessing risks and have less coordination, slower reaction times and less accuracy than adults. Children between 5 and 14 years old account for almost 40% of all sports-related injuries.

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When it comes to recreational activities, another group "at risk" for injuries includes adults who have been "out of practice" for a particular sport or are not accustomed to physical activity. Adults sometimes overestimate their abilities to undertake a new exercise program and push themselves to the point of injury.

Can It Be Prevented?

Estimates suggest that half of all childhood sports-related injuries can be prevented, and steps can be taken to reduce risks in all types of recreational activities:

  • To avoid unnecessary injuries, all children and adolescents should have a physical exam before starting new sports activities. Adults who have certain chronic diseases and adults who are at risk for chronic conditions (including men over age 40 and women over age 50), should consult with a physician before undertaking a new exercise activity.
  • Participate in activities that are supervised by an experienced or trained coach who understands and enforces game rules.
  • If starting a new exercise program, set realistic goals and start with frequencies and intensities appropriate to your current physical condition (based on consultation with your physician) and injury-history.
  • Ensure that playing fields and environments are safe and well-maintained (e.g. well-maintained playing fields free of tripping hazards, holes, exposed sprinklers, broken glass).
  • Make sure you are properly outfitted for the sport in which you plan to participate – proper protective gear (helmet, shin guards, knee pads); shoes that fit well and are appropriate for the sport; clothing that is not too loose so it won't become tangled. In some sports, mouth guards and face protection can help prevent traumas to the face, head, eyes, and mouth, which are among the most common types of injuries.
  • Stretch and warm-up before playing.
  • Do not "play through" pain. If you are injured, see your doctor. Follow all the doctor's orders for recovery, and get the doctor's OK before returning to play. Playing again too soon can lead to a more serious and long-lasting injuries.
  • Have a first aid kit available at all times.
  • Learn skills to prevent injuries specific to your sport (e.g. learn how to safely stop or fall while inline skating).
  • For children's team sports, be sure to match and group children based on skill level, weight and physical maturity – especially for contact sports.

Tips for Scripts

  • INFORM viewers about the risks associated with sports and recreational activities.
  • EDUCATE viewers about steps they can take to prevent sports-related injuries.

Case Examples

  1. Brooke plays goalie on her high school soccer team. In Brooke's aggressiveness to help her team succeed, she dives for a ball flying towards the goal. She catches the ball, but falls hard and hits her head on the ground. Brooke feels dizzy and foggy but doesn't know that she sustained a concussion. She tries to "shake it off," and after half time, her coach puts her back in the game. Once Brooke gets home she realizes she's had a headache since she fell, but attributes the headache to the excitement of the game and all the cheering she did. When Brooke stands up from the dinner table, she is dizzy and the room begins to get dark. Brooke's parents take her to the emergency room and discover she is suffering from a mild concussion. The coach pushes for the soccer league to host a training for all coaches and referees to educate them about the signs of a concussion.
  2. Jason and Bradley are getting ready for their Saturday afternoon rollerblading plans with their friends at the park. They begin packing their duffel bag with all of their protective gear – helmet, wrist guards, knee and elbow pads, and fingerless gloves, when Bradley realizes he has left his wrist guards at home. Jason offers to drive Bradley back home before they go to the park so he can get his wrist guards. Bradley says he doesn't think he is going to need them, but Jason reminds him of the last time they went rollerblading and they almost collided with the joggers on the path. Bradley then agrees its better to have his wrist guards than not, so he and Jason decide to leave the house a little early so they won't be late meeting their friends.
  • Page last reviewed: September 15, 2017
  • Page last updated: September 15, 2017
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