Sports injuries remain a pervasive medical issue among athletes of all ages, but are more prevalent among women and children.
And there aren’t many sports that don’t involve contact with the potential for injury, even if it’s just the contact between the hard surface of a roadway and a runner’s feet, ankles, knees and hips. Among professional athletes, concussions have been in the news lately, especially among NFL football and NHL hockey players. But even weekend warriors — joggers, tennis players, kayakers, cyclists — are prone to injury, women more than men.
Dr. Bridget Quinn, director of the sports clinic at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says differences in women’s anatomy — wider hips and different thigh bone and foot structure — make them more likely than men to suffer sports injuries. Women are more prone to repetitive stress injuries, shoulder and hip problems, and ankle sprains as their joints are more flexible than men’s, she said.
Athletes’ age also affects susceptibility to injury. A high school a football game can see a 260-pound defensive tackle taking on a 140-pound running back, with sometimes brutal physical consequences, given the sheer physics involved.
Dr. Thompson McGuire, an orthopedist who specializes in sports medicine at Down East Orthopedics in Bangor, said he’s amazed by the physical disparity between his eighth-grade son and some of his son’s classmates.
“My son is probably 90 pounds, and he has classmates who are close to 200 pounds, full-grown men who are already shaving,” he said. “He’s playing soccer against these guys, and I’m glad that it’s not football.”
McGuire said he sees a lot of injuries related to basketball, soccer and football, but attributes that to the fact that those are among the most popular sports. “I don’t see a lot of cricket injuries,” he said.
Research done by the National Center for Sports Safety shows:
- More than 3.5 million children ages 14 and younger receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year.
- Children suffer an estimated 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries in the United States due to sports activities.
- Repetitive motion injuries account for nearly half of all sports injuries in middle school and high school students due to immature bones, insufficient rest between activities and poor conditioning.
- Children between the ages of 5 and 14 account for 40 percent of all sports-related injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms.
- For young athletes within that same age range, most injuries are related to football (28 percent), followed by basketball (25 percent) and soccer (22 percent).
- Among amateur athletes of all ages, basketball injuries each year far surpass football, baseball and soccer injuries.
- In the 20 years between 1982 and 2002, basketball was associated with 88 direct or indirect fatalities among high school athletes, as opposed to 22 for football players. Cheerleading accounted for 14 deaths during that same period.
Advances in protective equipment are helping to cut down on injuries, although not concussions among football players, McGuire said.
“The helmets are getting better, but they have no impact on concussions,” he said. “What happens with a concussion is the skull stops, but the brain keeps going and gets bruised when it hits the skull. These new helmets are great for preventing fractures, but not concussions.”
Despite the risk of injury, McGuire advocates for athletic involvement.
“The safest thing to do is to sit on the couch and eat potato chips,” he said. “But the benefits of exercise far outweigh the potential risks.”