Tackling High School Football Injuries
It’s no secret that football has a high rate of injuries – even at the high school level. While other sports (basketball, baseball, soccer) all carry their fair share of risks and dangers, no sport matches football in terms of the number and severity of injuries reported annually.
Just over one million teens play high school football, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. A study by the Center for injury Research and Policy found that four out of every 1,000 high school football exposures resulted in an injury. When compared to college football players, the study found that high school players experienced more serious injuries, with a greater proportion of season-ending injuries, fractures and concussions.
“These statistics might give parents pause when it comes to their children playing high school football, but fortunately, there is good news as well,” says Alex Anderson., MD, primary care sports medicine specialist with Center for Orthopaedics (CFO). “Football injures can be prevented.”
Dr. Anderson and the other CFO doctors supervise the group’s sports medicine department and its staff of experienced athletic trainers who provide sports medicine coverage for 14 area high schools, working to prevent and treat injuries in young athletes.
Researchers have found that running plays were the leading cause of injury in high school football and accounted for the majority of season-ending injuries and concussions. Positions with the greatest risk of injury were running backs and linebackers. Dr. Anderson says these types of injuries could be reduced with additional instruction on appropriate tackling and blocking techniques as well as position-specific conditioning. “In addition, coaches, parents, trainers and players need to be aware of the symptoms of concussions and respond to these in a medically appropriate way, without delay,” says Dr. Anderson. “This is something we are addressing intensively with the schools we work with.”
He stresses that the main thing players, parents and coaches need to understand is while football does have a high rate of injuries, injury is not inevitable and the risk can definitely be reduced. “There are many ways to reduce the number and severity of football-related injuries. For example, we typically see many ankle and knee injuries. Increased conditioning, including stretching and strength training, for these vulnerable body sites can help prevent these types of injuries.”
Dr. Anderson adds that another key factor parents and coaches need to remember is that high school athletes are not merely miniature versions of adult athletes. “A player shouldn’t be forced to do things he isn’t physically capable of doing. Coaches and parents bear a prime responsibility in developing young athletes and watching for early signs of physical problems. Players also need to be encouraged to speak up when something feels wrong. They shouldn’t be told to ‘play through the pain.’ One of the best lessons a young athlete can learn is to listen to their bodies and take care of injury sooner, rather than later, when it could become more serious and put them on the sidelines for the entire season.”