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New Study Shows Decline in Pediatric Sports Injuries

During Sunday’s Midwest Regional basketball final, the University of Louisville’s athlete Kevin Ware experienced one of the most gruesome fractures ever televised, horrifying viewers as they saw his tibia snap in half live on screen. While orthopedic and sports injury physicians ponder on how this orthopedic event—from which Ware is now recovering, after having a titanium rod inserted into the bone to stabilize it—happened, a new study of pediatric sports injuries has been released. The study shows that while children are experiencing less orthopedic injuries, they may be under more stress and pressure in competitive sports, which may not bode well for the bone health of newer generations of athletes.

In 2005, there was an overall 14.1 percent decrease in pediatric and adolescent sports injuries from 2000. In 2010, there was an overall 11.3 percent decrease. Specifically, bicycling, roller sports and trampoline activity injuries decreased by 38.1 percent, 20.8 percent and 17.5 percent, respectively, with a 24.9 percent overall decrease of injuries in this group, according to the abstract of the report. Some activities that did see an increase in injuries were football and soccer, which experienced a 5.5 percent increase in injuries between 2000 and 2010.

The biggest drop in injury rate was for bicycling, which saw a more than 29 percent decrease between 2000 and 2005 and a 38 percent decrease overall. During this decade, the sport went from the most dangerous to the second most dangerous in the nation.

The numbers are based on a survey of children between the ages of 5 and 14 in about 100 hospital emergency rooms throughout the United States. Researchers analyzed the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System for sports-related injuries in children in 2000, 2005 and 2010 involving bicycle, basketball, baseball/softball, soccer, trampoline, football and roller sports activities. These injury rates were then measured against census population estimates to calculate the incident rate.

“Physicians and children's hospitals have reported an increase in injuries from pediatric sports and the number of surgeries on kids [but] there was no population-based study to see if there is a real increase,” said the study’s lead author Shital Parikh, M.D., an associate professor of pediatric surgery at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio. “[The results of the study] may reflect the changing pattern of childhood activities in the United Sates as organized sports are encouraged, often at the cost of free play.”

Parikh pointed out that the study does not address trends in chronic wear-and-tear damage and injuries that require surgery, such as a torn ligament, and these types of injuries have probably increased, he said.

“Overuse and overtraining are major concerns,” Corinna Franklin, M.D., a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Boston, Mass., told “As children become good at competitive sports, there is sometimes an impulse to keep them in the same sport year round, which may not be the healthiest thing for a young athlete.”

The push could be coming from parents, coaches and schools alike, Parikh said. “Free play is equally important and we should not be pushing them into organized sports because they can be more competitive,” he added.

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