School sports can be a wonderful opportunity for a child. Being on a sports team helps a child learn valuable lessons about hard work, self-esteem, physical discipline, team building, and competition. Sports are among the most popular extracurricular activities enjoyed by students, with more than 7 million high school students participating annually.
Yet, school sports carry with them a risk of physical injury. In high school sports, there are around 2 million injuries each year, with 500,000 visits to the doctor and 30,000 hospitalizations.
Here’s a look at some of the safest school sports, when factoring in injury rates:
1. Boys’ basketball
Interestingly enough, injury rates for boys’ basketball programs are lower than that of girls’ basketball. While girls’ basketball rates aren’t terribly high (see below for more information) they are statistically different. Injuries for boys’ basketball can include things such as jammed fingers, stress fractures, knee sprains, jumper’s knee, muscle strains, and eye injuries. In rare cases, the injury can be severe enough to keep the student out of school for a few days, but almost never more than one week.
Volleyball injuries aren’t especially common, either. Many volleyball injuries have to do with the repetitive overhead motions in the game, such as blocking or spiking. Finger injuries are common, too. Some of the specific injuries that can occur in volleyball include rotator cuff tendonitis, patellar tendonitis, finger jams, ankle sprains, muscle strains, ACL injury, and lower back pain. Like the other sports on this list, it’s rare for a volleyball injury to keep the student out of school for more than just a couple of days.
School baseball programs are highly competitive and physically demanding, yet they’re also one of the sports with the least amounts of injury. The most common injuries during baseball tend to be concussions or head injuries caused by the ball hitting the batter, collisions at home plate or in the base paths, or even when an outfielder dives for a fly ball. Arm injuries such as shoulder strains, tendonitis, and torn ligaments are common, especially for pitchers. Gashes and cuts are common, too. The quick motions in baseball also lend themselves to hamstring and groin injuries. Over time, repeated injuries of this nature can cause serious problems, but this is extremely rare in school sports.
Like baseball, softball lends itself to shoulder injuries. About 10% of softball injuries are shoulder-related. Ankle and knee injuries are common, as well, as are hand and finger injuries. Ligament sprains, muscle strains, contusions, and fractures can affect any of these areas. Softball injuries only very rarely result in the student being out of school for more than a few days.
5. Girls’ basketball
The incidence of injuries in girls’ basketball is higher than boys’ basketball (as well as all of the other school sports in this list). The common injury list is similar to the boys’ basketball list, with a notable exception: knee injuries are more common in girls’ basketball than they are in boys’ basketball.
6. Soccer (boys’ or girls’)
Soccer is somewhere in the middle in terms of injuries. It’s nowhere near as injury prone as football (which is at the top of the list), but it’s significantly higher than most of the rest of the sports above. Ankle sprains are by far the most common injury for both boys’ and girls’ soccer, accounting for around 20% of injuries for each. Concussions are common in both, although more common in girls’ soccer. Thigh and upper leg strains are common in both boys’ and girls’ soccer. Girls’ soccer also has an increased risk of knee sprains. In about half of cases, injuries put the student out of commission for less than a week, but in about 30% of cases the injury put the student on recovery for 1 to 3 weeks. The remainder – about 15% – had the student out for more than three weeks.
Preventing school sports injuries
While school sports injuries can’t be avoided altogether, they can be prevented. Strong conditioning programs, as well as programs that educate students about sports safety, have been shown to reduce the incidence of injuries in a given program.
If your student is considering school sports and you’re concerned about injuries, talk with your student about the rates and types of injuries. You may find that your student is willing to given another sport a try. At a minimum, raising the safety issue may encourage her to think strongly about safety, and focus on conditioning and avoiding injury.
About the Author
Dorothy Wheaton, PA-C, is the lead clinical provider for Careworks Health Clinics, an organization that offers multiple urgent care centers and walk-in healthcare clinics in the Northeast United States.