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Youth Sports Safe for Student-Athletes With One Kidney, Study Suggests

Should children with only one kidney be forced to sit out of contact sports, in fear of a kidney injury? Not necessarily, suggests a study published online today in the journal Pediatrics.

Surveys have shown that physicians often recommend limiting the amount of contact a student-athlete with one kidney should endure, or even push them from participating in contact sports altogether, according to the study. For the past 18 years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended allowing student-athletes with one kidney to participate in contact sports, pending assessment by a medical professional.

This study focuses on data from the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) High School Injury Surveillance Study, conducted from 1995 through 1997, with more than 4.4 million athlete exposures (one athlete participating in one game or practice) being examined.

Of the 23,666 injuries reported, kidney injuries only occurred 18 times, with none requiring surgery. (Three were lacerations; 15 were kidney contusions.) Of those 18 kidney injuries, 12 were reported in boys' football, with the others coming in boys' baseball, basketball, and soccer, and girls' basketball and soccer.

Notably, none of the 18 injuries resulted in "known loss of kidney function," and none was reported to have affected a single kidney.

Compared with other types of organ-specific injuries, kidney injuries occurred far less frequently. In the same time period, a total of 2,069 head/neck/spine injuries, 1,219 minor traumatic brain injuries, and 3,450 knee injuries were reported.

Boys' football accounted for a large share of injuries to both genders, with 10,557 of the 23,666 reported injuries stemming from that one sport.

With approximately one in 1,500 people born without a kidney, according to the study, the question of whether to allow these individuals to participate in sports emerges routinely. Losing the function of that one remaining kidney would "be a life-altering event," the authors write.

However, based on the findings of this study, the authors suggest that the data "do not support limiting sport participation by athletes with single kidneys." As they note, all components of life (not just sports) carry risks, many of which are ignored on a day-to-day basis.

The authors suggest revisiting the AAP's current recommendations regarding single-kidney youth-athletes, to "more accurately guide physicians, children, and families toward the healthiest and safest possible lives." They say putting sport-related kidney injury into context for families—namely, how injuries to other parts of the body occur far more frequently, based on these findings—may help mitigate some concerns about single-kidney youth-athletes participating in contact sports.

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