National Sports Injuries

Working as a physical therapist in a hospital near a ski area gives me lots of exposure to ski accidents and major injuries. They can be really scary and life changing. We risk our lives doing sports, yet we are in danger every day when driving a car and being in public places. Quality of life is so important and typically outweighs the chance of getting hurt.

The CDC regularly publishes data about injury in sports and recreation. According to the National Health Statics Reports published in 2016, here is the estimated number of yearly sports injuries:

  • Total number of injuries across all sports/recreational activities = 8.6 million
  • Basketball = 850,000
  • Cycling = 600,000
  • Soccer = 500,000
  • Gymnastics/Cheerleading = 470,000
  • Running/Jogging = 450,000
  • Baseball/Softball = 400,000
  • Snow Sports = 285,000

Basketball, cycling, and soccer are clearly the most dangerous. They are also a lot more popular than many other sports, so that is to be expected. I was surprised that snow sports are lower down on the list, but there are probably less people skiing and snowboarding compared to the other sports because it is not as easily accessible.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission also publishes a vast amount of data including the number of injuries treated in the emergency department (ED) for various sports. Here is some of their data on the number of people seen in the ED in 2016 for various sports injuries: 

  • Cycling = 99,000 fractures; 11,900 concussions
  • Basketball = 70,000 fractures; 16,000 concussions
  • Soccer = 44,000 fractures; 13,000 concussions
  • Baseball = 22,5000 fractures; 4,900 concussions
  • Skiing = 5,300 fractures
  • Snowboarding = 4,600 fractures
  • Track & Field (including running) = 3,400 fractures
  • Tennis = 3,300 fractures
  • Golf = 2,800 fractures (Golf carts = 3,500 fractures)

Once again, we have the same top three contenders (cycling, basketball, and soccer), but in a different order. Even though cycling is not a contact sport, the number of injuries causing people to go to the ED is scary! There are a lot of crashes and unfortunate accidents with cars. It is also interesting to note that golf cart injuries are more common than regular golf injuries!

Many people think running is bad for your knees and joints, but the numbers show there are so many other sports that put you at a higher risk for injury. The stresses of running can be minimized if you progress your time/mileage properly and keep your muscles balanced. However, you cannot always avoid the hazards of high-speed crashes or contact sports. Running injuries certainly tend to be less sudden and far less traumatizing.

Despite the fact that we have athletic trainers, concussion committees, mouth guard and helmet rules, etc. I believe the number of sports injuries is only going to rise in the future. More and more kids are being introduced to sports at a younger age. This heightens their risk for injury and over training, especially since many kids are now specializing in one sport and performing it year round. With facilities providing indoor soccer arenas and indoor tracks, leagues such as AAU and American Legion, and pressure from parents and coaches or schools, it is very common to see athletes play the same sport every season. People are also always striving to do more and pushing to their limit, which puts both competitive and recreational athletes at a higher risk.

Most people have at least one story about a friend or family member getting injured playing a sport, or perhaps their own story. We see reports in the news and on TV all the time. My worst personal injury resulting in a trip to the ED was a concussion from falling on my head on the balance beam in gymnastics. My worst family incident resulting in an ambulance ride and subsequent surgery was my dad crashing his mountain bike on a remote trail in Colorado. 

This data is a great reminder to listen to your body and always think twice. Make sure you are well rested and protect your head when appropriate. Double check your equipment and carry emergency info (RoadID is great for this) just in case. Bring a buddy or let someone know where you are going and when you should be back. Keep your muscles balanced and do not attempt what you are not ready for.

Does any of this data surprise you?