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H.S. Basketball Players Suffered 2.5 Million Injuries Over Past Six Years


From the 2005-06 through 2010-11 school years, more than 1.5 million high school basketball players were treated in hospital emergency departments with injuries related to the sport, and an additional one million were treated by athletic trainers, according to a new study published online today in the Journal of Athletic Training.

The researchers gathered emergency-department data from January 1, 2005, through December 31, 2010, via the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. The athletic-trainer data came from the High School Reporting Information Online system, which captured injuries from 100 nationally representative high schools from the 2005-06 through 2010-11 school years.

Nearly all of the student-athletes who were treated by athletic trainers (92.4 percent) did not require surgery, and only 1.8 percent were documented to have been treated by an emergency-department physician after being assessed by an athletic trainer. The most common injury sites were ankles, head and face, hands, and knees, and the majority of patients had sprains or strains.

Based on their findings, the study authors recommend increasing the presence of athletic trainers among high school sports teams. Trainers can help diagnose less-severe injuries such as sprains and strains, reducing unnecessary trips to the hospital.

"Athletic trainers play a really important role in helping to assess those more mild or moderate injuries and that helps alleviate a burden on the health care system and on families," said Lara McKenzie, the study's lead author and principal investigator at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in a statement. "They are right there on the sidelines. They are there when some of these things happen. And they can be a great resource for families to evaluate that injury immediately."

According to the National Athletic Trainers' Association, only 42 percent of high school sports teams had an athletic trainer on hand as of 2009. Some states are better than others, however; 86 percent of Pennsylvania high schools reported having access to an athletic trainer during the 2011-12 school year, according to a study from the Pennsylvania Athletic Trainers Society.

"We're there to prevent injuries, evaluate them quickly, treat them immediately, and try our best to make sure that as we return them to play, we do it in the most safe and efficient way possible," said Kerry Waple, a certified athletic trainer at Nationwide Children's. "There are a lot of injuries that are winding up in urgent cares and emergency departments that don't need to be there."

In 2011, the National Football League began having a certified athletic trainer in the press box at every NFL game to watch for possible injuries (including concussions). Marjorie Albohm, the former president of the National Athletic Trainers' Association, said that the NFL's move should help schools recognize the need for athletic trainers.

"Education and awareness is the key to creating change," she said in an email. "The NFL's concussion policies have put a spotlight on this and other injuries. That has created tremendous awareness of the importance of proper injury care for athletes and the important role that ATs play in that."

Albohm also said "it is irresponsible to provide an athletic program without an athletic trainer."

If nothing else, this new study should reinforce that point.

Photo: Kerry Waple, an athletic trainer at Nationwide Children's Hospital, examines the knee of a young athlete. Fewer than half of all high schools employ athletic trainers and the numbers may be even worse in middle schools. (Nationwide Children's Hospital)

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