Sports are the No. 1 cause of musculoskeletal injuries -- injuries to the bones, joints or muscles -- in adolescents, and sports injuries send more teenagers to emergency rooms every year than any other problem.
At the University of Kentucky, we are researching the best ways to track and prevent sports injuries in high school athletes, and increase the athlete's chance at a full recovery without a repeat injury.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported a huge increase in high school sports participation over the past 30 years. Around 7.5 million students participate in high school athletics, about 18 times more than participate in collegiate athletics.
The health benefits of physical activity are well known and include weight management, improved self-esteem, and increased strength, endurance and flexibility. The flip side is increased risk of injury. One of the long-term consequences of sports injuries is arthritis. And not your grandmother's arthritis, but the kind that can strike as early as the 20s and 30s.
This long-term consequence has effected me personally and is something I live with daily. As a teenager, I spent time in different emergency rooms all over upstate New York as I traveled with my team. My injuries included sprained ankles, torn ACLs, dislocated shoulders and several concussions. At 16, my only concern was whether or not I was going to miss any games because of my injuries. I never thought how those injuries might affect me, or that I would have arthritis, at 32.
The biggest risk factor for injury is a previous similar injury. So, if an athlete has sprained an ankle or knee ligaments, he or she will be more likely to suffer the same type of injury in the future.
There are many sports injury prevention programs available, which focus on balance, stability and landing techniques. These programs reduce the risk of sports injury, but they will not prevent all injuries. High school athletes and their parents should remember the basic guidelines when participating in any sport:
- Be in shape for sports participation.
- Use up-to-date equipment, and use the right equipment for the sport.
- Get evaluated by your school's athletic trainer if you suffer an injury.
- If you see a physician for an injury, report the diagnosis to your school's athletic trainer.
- An athletic trainer can help you return to play safely through injury rehabilitation.
- Together, your athletic trainer and physician can help you determine appropriate course of action to prevent or treat future injuries.
- Taking care of injuries early and properly is extremely important. This promotes better healing in the short term and better quality of life in the long term.
Participating in high school sports is an exciting part of life for many teenagers. I myself was one of those kids who lived and breathed sports in high school and college. Parents should encourage their kids who want to play sports, but with that encouragement should come a word of caution.
It's important for both students and parents to be aware of how to reduce risk of injury and what to do if injury occurs.
Jennifer McKeon is an athletic training expert and a professor in the UK College of Health Sciences.