FEATURES: Doctors See Rise In Youth Sports Injuries

(Photo courtesy safekidsworldwide.com)

(Photo courtesy safekidsworldwide.com)

By Maeve Rourke – Staff Reporter

Brie Boothby was excited to play out her field hockey season for Riverbend High School in Virginia. On September 10, 2013, Boothby was at an away game not too far from her hometown. The opposing team was at her goal trying to score, while her team was scrambling around to get the ball out. Amongst the chaos, Boothby took a a field hockey stick to the head and blacked out. In that moment, she turned from a optimistic teenage athlete to an anxious girl plagued with constant headaches.

“The next thing I remember was walking off the field,” Boothby said. “I got ice from the trainer, answered questions like ‘what day is it?’ and ‘what did you have for breakfast?’ and then went back in the game. Looking back, there was no reason to go back into the game after a head injury like that.”

That night, the 17-year-old began to feel nauseous, and began losing her memory. A trip to the doctor revealed Boothby had sustained a serious concussion that left her with permanent brain injuries.

It took Boothby 10 months of physical therapy just to be able to stand up without falling over. Since then, Boothby said that her school work suffered, and she’s been diagnosed with ADHD.

Over time she realized that she had lost several key moments of her life. Brie could no longer remember her first kiss, first date, passwords, or some days even what month it was. She became easily distracted, couldn’t make eye contact, and carried a vomit bag with me at all times.

“My GPA dropped so much that I’m really anxious about college,” Boothby said. “I’m not sure if I’m going to get into what I’ve worked for my entire life.”

Boothby is one of 1.35 million youths that have sustained a sports injury that year. Thousands of young athletes continue playing through their pain, and further their injuries everyday.

According to a Med Sports System Study, high school athletes account for an estimated 2 million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year.

No single sport is specifically to blame for the increase in sports injuries. Instead, experts suspect that choosing to play one sport all the time, or playing several sports all at once, are factors leading to what are called overuse injuries. In fact, nearly half of injuries sustained by middle school and high school students during sports are overuse injuries.

“Unfortunately, there is not a lot of education built into the system to help prevent overuse injuries and this has contributed to a ten-fold increase in high school injuries in recent years,” orthopaedic specialist Dr. Jeffrey Guy said.

Also, young athletes today train more, have better equipment, and coaching. These factors all play into the increase of injures. Today, children discover what sport they enjoy at a young age. Parents are increasingly pushing their children to play that one sport year round to become better. Constant involvement in one specific sport puts stress on the muscles, tendons, and even bones that are used, ultimately resulting in an overuse injury.

Research reported earlier this year found that young athletes who played a single sport for more hours a week than years they were old — such as a 10-year-old who played 11 or more hours of soccer — were 70% more likely to experience serious overuse injuries.

There is also increased pressure on young athletes to support their team, and play in college. When injured, athletes are often afraid to tell their coach or parents because they do not want to disappoint anyone.

Similarly to athletes, coaches feel pressure to leave injured players in the game. In fact, a new study by national research group Safe Kids Worldwide which surveyed 3,000 athletes, coaches and parents, found that 42 percent of kids said that they have downplayed or hidden injuries so that they could keep playing, and 53 percent of coaches said they’ve felt pressure to put injured players back in the game.

In addition, parents and coaches do not normally implement sufficient safety precautions for their players.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), although 62 percent of organized sports-related injuries occur during practice, one-third of parents do not have their children take the same safety precautions at practice that they would during a game.

Letting the body rest, conducting preventive and strengthening exercises, and following proper technique are among injury prevention strategies recommended in a report created by multiple sports medicine physicians at Loyola University Medical Center . It also says athletes should be encouraged to speak up about injuries, coaches should be supported in injury-prevention decisions, and parents and young athletes should become better educated about sports safety.

“These statistics don’t have to be part of the game if we take some simple precautions,” says Kate Carr, Safe Kids president and CEO.

There is not only an increase in overuse; there has also been a rise in serious injuries.

“Although the number of injuries cited in the report may seem high, the actual number is likely even higher,” Neeru Jayanthi, a sports medicine physician at Loyola University Medical Center said.

Approximately 25% those injuries end up being serious, Jayanthi said.

Many parents and organizations have noticed the increase in youth injuries, and are seeking a change. According to the CDC, more than half of all sport injuries in children are preventable.

“One of the biggest problems with youth sports is that they are unregulated,”  Bob Ferraro, Sr. CEO of the National High School Coaches Association said. “The National High School Coaches Association believes that there should be a standardization of rules that protect our young athletes when it comes to injuries.”

The National High School Coaches Association think it should be mandatory to have medical personnel at each game to attend to injuries and to make all medical decisions about re-entry to the game. While current economics may make this financially impossible, the NHSCA suggests that youth programs seek-out athletic trainers, EMT’s, doctors and nurses to volunteer their services.

Safe Kids Worldwide, a global organization dedicated to preventing injuries in children, is one of the most successful institutions in preventing injuries in athletes.

Safe Kids works with more than 200 partners across the country to hold free youth sports safety clinics for coaches, parents, young athletes and league organizers. The clinics provide the knowledge and skills essential to preventing sports injuries and emergencies in young athletes. The content for the clinics is based on relevant information and tools to combat the most common and severe injuries in sports today, including acute and overuse injuries, dehydration and concussion. They also work with parents and community leaders to urge school boards to adopt best practices and guidelines to address all sporting injuries among their student-athletes.

Since the creation of the program in 2010, the organisation has reached more than 700,000 parents, coaches and kids with key information needed to keep athletes active and safe. Additionally, they have held more than 1,000 clinics and awareness events to increase the knowledge and awareness of sports injury prevention.

Also the STOP (Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention)’s public outreach program focuses on the importance of sports safety-specifically relating to overuse and trauma injuries. The initiative not only raises awareness and provides education on injury reduction, but also highlights how playing safe and smart can enhance and extend a child’s athletic career, improve teamwork, reduce obesity rates and create a lifelong love of exercise and healthy activity.

In addition, in the event of an injury the Sport Trauma and Overuse Prevention’s website has a list of specialists that you can contact that will accurately diagnose and treat the injury.

These programs prevent thousands of athletes a year from sustaining a sports injury. They do not have to worry about sitting out for a season, or their future being impacted by a preventable injury.

Not only are organizations dedicated to preventing injury and helping those who are hurt, but also athletes such as Brie Boothby.

Boothby has created a peer support group called Concussion Connects to help others cope with the effects of suffering a severe concussion.

“I am grateful for the lessons I have learned throughout this difficult journey,” Boothby said. “Today, I remain a proud survivor of a Traumatic Brain Injury and am blessed to live (and remember) another day.”

Brie is enjoying her final year of high school and looks forward to fulfilling her dreams by going away to college next year.

(Some information courtesy of Today.com, SafeKids.org, stopsportsinjuries.org, and USAtoday.com)

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