Preventing Sports-Related Injuries. (Athletic Arena)

By Janda, David H. | USA TODAY, May 2003 | Go to article overview

Preventing Sports-Related Injuries. (Athletic Arena)


Janda, David H., USA TODAY


SUMMER IS ALMOST HERE and, with the weather becoming balmy across the country, many people, young and old alike, are flocking to softball, baseball, and soccer fields to pursue one of their chief passions--sports. Unfortunately for many of these recreational athletes, they will also succumb to sports-related injuries, one of the least-recognized public health problems in America today. This year alone, an estimated 12,000,000 student-athletes, aged five-22, will sustain a sports or recreational injury. In addition, they will lose more than 20,000,000 school days, and billions of dollars will be spent needlessly on health care.

The general public, as well as medical professionals, have various misconceptions about the magnitude of sports injuries. Most individuals in the lay public and the medical community believe they are bumps and braises which do not have long-term ramifications and cannot be prevented. The bad news is that the majority of sports injuries can be severe and can carry significant long-term ramifications from pain, disability, and cost standpoints. The good news is that nearly 80% are avoidable. The answer falls under the umbrella of prevention--the biggest bang for the buck in all of medicine.

The Institute for Preventative Sports Medicine has completed studies targeting effective and practical solutions to prevent sports-related injuries. These offer educational tips for parents, coaches, and community activists by recommending the use of:

* Breakaway bases to reduce sliding mishaps in softball and baseball, which comprise over 70% of injuries in those sports

* Lighter-weight materials in baseballs to reduce serious injury and possible fatalities in children hit in the chest by balls, as well as utilizing AEDs (automated external defibrillators), along with CPR, to enhance survival if a chest impact occurs

* Padding on soccer goalposts that would reduce the force of impact by more than 60% (Eighteen children over the past 13 years have died due to impact with an unpadded post. Goalposts must be made unsecured so they can tip over, as well as being padded.)

* Beach balls for heading drills in soccer (A recent study shows that nearly 50% of youth players suffer symptoms from concussions due to heading, which could lead to memory deficits.)

* Air system shin guards in soccer that would reduce the force of impact by nearly 80%

* More-effective chest protectors to stop injury and fatality in baseball, hockey, and lacrosse.

For warm-weather sports, the Institute has focused largely on injury prevention in baseball and softball. These rank near the top of sports-related emergency room visits, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Forty-million people participate in organized softball leagues, not including pick-up games. Another 15,000,000, from little T-ballers all the way up to the senior level, play baseball.

More than 70% of softball and baseball injuries result from sliding into a stationary base, a fixed immovable object. Many of these are severe and result in broken bones, torn ligaments, and dislocated joints--with the promise of arthritis in the future. The base deceptively may appear to be a little white pillow, but it is more like an iceberg sunk into a concrete anchor beneath the ground. A person's ankle will break before the base will disengage.

The number of those sliding accidents would drop precipitously with the use of breakaway bases, which move upon excessive impact with a foot or hand. Studies at the University of Michigan and the Institute have found that breakaway bases reduced sliding injuries by 96% compared with stationary ones and led to a 99% reduction in health care costs. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention extrapolated this data and found that breakaway bases could prevent 1,700,000 injuries per year and save $2,000,000,000 in annual health care costs.

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