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Understanding risk helps prevent injury

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Medical costs for sports injury are estimated to exceed $282 million in the United ​States each year. Sports injuries make up an estimated 16 percent of all accidental injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms. Numbers like these are cause for concern for activities that should be healthy and fun. Your understanding of the risk factors can help prevent sports injury.

The greatest predictor of injury risk is the sport itself, with contact sports such as football, topping the list. Overuse also increases injury risk. How often injury occurs is affected by the athlete’s age, gender and level of fitness or competition.

To better recognize the likely causes of sports injury, you can divide injury risk factors into two categories: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Changing the game ca​n reduce risk

Outside forces play into preventing sports injury. We can change environmental or extrinsic risk factors to reduce injury risk such as:

  • Rule changes to end rough play, such as “spear tackling” in football
  • Use of protective equipment, such as helmets and face and mouth guards
  • Ankle supports to prevent re-injury
  • Safer athletic equipment such as breakaway bases and softer balls for baseball and softball

Injury risk is indi​​vidual

What a player brings to the game makes a difference in reducing sports injury risk. Is the player healthy and fit? Is the player injury prone? Intrinsic or inherent risk factors are individual to a specific athlete and include:

  • Individual fitness level, history of injury and motor control
  • Participation in conditioning and ​​stretching programs

History of sports injury is a good indicator of risk for future sports injury. The jury remains out whether greater fitness and conditioning will reduce risk of sports-related injury. But the evidence is not enough to either encourage or discontinue stretching before and after exercising, or to forego body movement training programs including education, stretching, strengthening, calisthenics or plyometrics exercise, and sports-specific agility drills. These programs have been shown to provide a specific benefit, such as reducing anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury in female soccer players.

Benefits of exe​​​rcise rule

Even in ideal conditions for practice and competition, risk for sports injury remains. But don’t throw in the towel. Despite the odds, the health benefits of participating outweigh the injury risk.

Obesity and other health issues resulting from inactivity-related disease, such as diabetes or heart disease, are well documented. In moderation, exercise offers substantial health and fitness benefits over a lifetime and largely reduces risk of sudden cardiac death.

What’s the up shot? By recognizing the benefits of exercise and participation in school sports, along with the extrinsic and intrinsic risks of sports injury, you will help your student athletes gain the most from their sports experience.

Article submitted by Jonathon E. Mack, M.D., Marshfield Clinic.

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