High School, College Football Comes With Risk

THURSDAY, July 26 (HealthDay News) -- With the school football season just around the corner, a new study is raising awareness of the risks associated with playing the game.

Researchers found that college football players get injured more often than their high school counterparts, but high school athletes are more likely to end up severely injured.

The new findings also point to "where the focus should be in terms of prevention," said Dr. Cynthia LaBella, medical director of the Institute for Sports Medicine at Children's Memorial Hospital, in Chicago. She was not involved in the study, which is published in the August issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

A second report on youth sports injuries was also released Thursday, this time by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That study, published in this week's issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found that boys aged 10 to 14 were most likely to end up in the nation's emergency departments with a traumatic brain injury, and that activities such as bicycling, horseback riding, football, basketball and use of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) were most often to blame.

The football study was led by R. Dawn Comstock, a primary investigator at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Her team collected injury reports for the 2005-2006 football season from 100 high schools and 55 colleges across the country via two Internet-based systems -- the High School Reporting Information Online (RIO) and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Injury Surveillance System, respectively.

Based on almost 1,900 injury reports submitted to the RIO, the researchers estimate there were 517,726 football-related injuries during the 2005-2006 season at the high school level across the United States. The NCAA system logged more than 3,500 injuries in its database during the same period.

Not unexpectedly, college players were about twice as likely to injure themselves as high school students, Comstock said, suffering 8.6 injuries per 1,000 "athlete-exposures" (a practice or competition), compared with high school athletes' 4.36 injuries/1,000.

But the researcher said she was surprised to find that the distribution of injuries differed, with fractures, concussions, and season-ending injuries more common among high school athletes.

For instance, injuries to the lower leg, ankle and foot were common at both the high school and college levels. But while the knee is the second most-injured site among high school players, hip and thigh injuries were more common in college athletes.

The study comes on the heels of findings released in July that found a much higher rate of catastrophic head injury among high school football players compared to college players.

LaBella noted that, if anything, this study is underestimating injuries at the high school level, because only schools with an athletic trainer on staff were included. It's possible that such schools have better resources and equipment than less well-funded schools, she said.

According to Comstock, the impetus behind this study was the lack of any injury reporting system at the high school level to match the NCAA's, which has been in place for more than 20 years.

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