Youth Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them

Youth sports injuries account for nearly 3 million hospital emergency visits each year.  While organized athletic programs offer many benefits for children, the incidence of injury is alarming.

Fifty-nine percent of kids between 6 and 17 participating in sports (American Sports Data, 2005; National Survey of Children’s Health, 2005). Coaches and parents can make sports safer by understanding the causes of injuries and how to prevent them.

Youth Sports Injuries: Statistics

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly 30 million children participate in athletics in the United States. Most young athletes will experience minor bruises, strains, and sprains, but the statistics reveal serious safety concerns:

  • High school athletes account for an estimated 2 million injuries and 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year.
  • More than 3.5 million kids under age 14 receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year.
  • Overuse injuries are responsible for nearly half of all sports injuries to middle and high school students.
  • Sport injuries account for 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries among children in the United States.
  • According to the CDC, more than half of all sports injuries in children are preventable.

See Stop Sports Injuries for more statistics and watch this video:

Most Dangerous Youth Sports

Among athletes ages 5 to 14, football was at the top of the sport injury list:

  • 28% football 
  • 25% baseball
  • 22% soccer players
  • 15% basketball
  • 12% softball players

Since 2000, 5 x the number of serious shoulder and elbow injuries among youth baseball and softball players occurred.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System reported that of the 46.5 million children who played team sports in 2011, pediatric sports injuries related to 14 common sports activities, including football, cheerleading, soccer and basketball. 

In 2012, 12% of all ER visits (163,670) involved a concussion, the equivalent of 1 every 3 minutes. Nearly half (47%) were in kids ages 12 to 15.

See Youth Sports Injuries by Michelle Healy for more.

Safety for Children in Sports

Concussions are most prevalent in contact sports, such football and soccer.  The graphic below (Mark Nowlin, Seattle Times) explains what happens to the brain when an athletes sustains a hard blow to the head.

 The CDC provides excellent resources for preventing concussions and traumatic head injuries for young athletes. Improved construction and required use of helmets in contact sports has resulted in greater safety

Overly intense activity has contributed to the dramatic increase in overuse injuries, such as stress fractures, tendinitis, and osteochondral injuries of the joint surface.  However, these were rarely seen when children spent more time engaging in free play.

The risk factors for overuse injuries:

  • Sport specialization at a young age
  • Strength imbalances 
  • Improper footwear
  • Intense, repetitive training during periods of growth

Injury prevention strategies:

  • Getting adequate rest and recovery
  • Perform warmup, stretching, and strengthening exercises
  • Learn proper technique.
  • Don't work through pain.
  • Athletes should report injuries rather than conceal them.
  • Any injury that involves obvious swelling, deformity, and/or loss of normal function (i.e. movement or strength) should be seen by a physician immediately.
  • Coaches and parents should become better educated about sports safety.

See Safe Kids Worldwide and the STOP Sports Injury Campaign (below) more resources.

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