While sports are an important part of a healthy lifestyle for young people, injuries can happen too – and a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics reveals which activities are most likely to send a young athlete to the emergency room.
The report, published Friday in the National Health Statistics Reports, found that between 2010 and 2016, about 2.7 million emergency department visits for sports injuries each year were made by young people ages 5 to 24.
The top five most frequent activities that caused those visits were:
- Football, at 14.1% of the visits
- Basketball, at 12.5%
- Pedal cycling, at 9.9%
- Soccer, at 7.1%
- Ice or roller skating or skateboarding, at 6.9%
“These are the sports that account for the most visits,” said Pinyao Anna Rui, main author of the report and a survey statistician at the National Center for Health Statistics.
“Many young Americans engage in some type of sports or recreational activity each year, and sports and recreation-related injuries are a common type of injury seen in hospital emergency departments,” she said. “It’s important to understand the types of injuries that are most commonly seen in the emergency department and which sports account for those injuries in order to monitor and guide injury prevention efforts.”
The report was based on data from the CDC’s 2010-2016 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, and researchers took a close look at the cause of injuries in the data.
How activities and injuries change with age
When injuries were examined by age, the data showed that the most frequent activities causing emergency department visits for sports injuries among children 5 to 9 years old were playground-related injuries, pedal cycling, gymnastics or cheerleading, running or jogging and various unspecific activities.
Among people ages 10 to 14, according to the data, the most frequent activities causing emergency department visits for sports injuries were football, basketball, pedal cycling, soccer and baseball or softball.
Among those ages 15 to 19, the data showed that the most frequent activities causing visits for sports injuries were basketball, football, soccer, pedal cycling, ice or roller skating or skateboarding and baseball or softball.
For young adults ages 20 to 24, the data showed that the most frequent activities causing visits for sports injuries were basketball, ice or roller skating or skateboarding, other unspecified activities, pedal cycling and soccer.
Among all of the patients, ages 5 to 24, sprains and strains or dislocations accounted for the largest percentage of those emergency department visits, at 28.1%, the data showed.
Injuries specifically to the upper and lower extremities accounted for a majority of the emergency department visits, 62.6%, followed by injuries affecting the head and neck at 23%, according to the data.
The report had some limitations, including that it only involved injuries recorded in emergency departments and not injuries recorded elsewhere.
“The study did not include patients who sought care in other settings or who did not seek care,” Rui said. “Thus the estimates in the report are an underestimate of all health care utilization for sports injuries.”
The report also did not assess trends over time.
Yet the researchers wrote in the report that when compared with previous data, the new findings suggest that emergency department visits for sports injuries among youth “have stayed relatively stable in recent years.”
Sports injuries treated with opioids
When it comes to treating these sports injuries, the report found that analgesic medications to relieve pain were given or prescribed at 63.9% of the emergency department visits, and among those, 22.5% were opioids while 41.4% were nonopioid analgesics.
The percentage of opioid analgesics given or prescribed increased to almost half of visits, 46.2%, among patients ages 20 to 24, according to the report.
That finding on opioid prescriptions stood out to Dr. Dennis Cardone, a sports medicine specialist and co-director of the Center for Young Athletes at NYU Langone Sports Health in New York, who was not involved in the new report.
“The numbers were surprising to me,” Cardone said, adding that more recent data could show a reduction in those numbers.
“We’ve all become much more sensitive about prescribing opioids and only prescribing them in the right setting moreso than in the past,” he said. “I’m sure that number will go down significantly, but I was surprised. I was surprised by how high it was. That’s why these studies that look back retrospectively are really good because the findings are often different than what we would expect.”
Since 2016, for instance, there have been stricter approaches among health care providers when it comes to prescribing and facilitating the proper use of opioids.
Cardone went on to point out that the other findings in the new report – such as which sports cause most visits and the types of injuries seen – are what he would have expected.
Overall, to reduce the risk of sports injuries, he said that coaches should remember to follow the practice guidelines that are available for their sport and parents should encourage their children to enjoy a wide variety of activities instead of specializing in just one sport.
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“We’re seeing a lot of these overuse injuries, and as someone sticks to one sport, they’re certainly at risk of injury,” Cardone said.
“So less sports specialization and more well-rounded sports,” he said. “Allow them to do what they enjoy and mix it up.”