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Study Examines Injury Rates Among Middle School Athletes

Middle school athletes of both genders are less likely to sustain injuries than their high school or collegiate counterparts, but female student-athletes in the middle grades are at significantly higher risk of mild injury during practices than games, according to a new study published online in the Journal of Athletic Training.

The study examined athletes who participated in 29 sports at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii, over a 20-year period (1988-2008). In total, 8,078 boys and 5,960 girls from more than a dozen middle school sports, respectively, participated in the study, which tracked injury rates in terms of athletic exposures (defined as one athlete participating in one practice or one game).

Over the 20-year period, male athletes reported 4,279 injuries, 1,930 of which resulted in at least one day lost from activity, while girls reported a total of 2,781 injuries and 1,077 so-called "time-loss injuries." That boiled down to an overall injury rate of 8.137 per 1,000 athletic exposures and a time-loss injury rate of 3.466 per 1,000 athletic exposures for both boys and girls combined. Tendinitis accounted for 19 percent of all reported injuries from both genders.

In terms of the sports with the highest rates of overall injuries, football led the way with 16.030 per 1,000 athletic exposures, followed by girls' track (12.167/1,000 AEs), girls' cross-country (10.864/1,000 AEs), girls' wrestling (10.256/1,000 AEs), and boys' wrestling (9.954/1,000 AEs). For time-loss injuries, football again came out in front (8.486/1,000 AEs), followed by girls' wrestling (6.410/1,000 AEs), girls' track (4.878/1,000 AEs), boys' wrestling (4.305/1,000 AEs) and girls' (3.883/1,000 AEs) and boys' judo (3.696/1,000 AEs).

In sex-matched sports, such as soccer, basketball, track, and cross-country, girls were more likely to suffer an injury than boys (both overall and time-loss injuries).

Boys were 55 percent less likely to sustain a severe injury (22 or more days lost) during a practice than a game, but the data revealed no differences between practices and games in terms of mild (1-7 days lost) or moderate (8-21 days lost) injuries. Girls, meanwhile, were twice as likely to suffer a mild injury during practices compared to games, but the study authors found no difference between practices and games in injury rates for moderate or severe injuries.

"With injury assessment and the cooperation of coaches, athletic trainers, and parents, modifications to training and conditioning programs can enable the middle school athlete to compete successfully with limited time lost from activity," study authors Glenn Beachy and Mitchell Rauh concluded. "Additional middle school injury-surveillance data are needed from a variety of settings, both public and private, and for all sports to better understand the injury patterns of the middle school athlete."

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