James R. Andrews, MD, is a founding partner and medical director of the Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine in Gulf Breeze, Fla. He also is a co-founder of the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Ala. His blog adds perspective and commentary on current sport medicine initiatives and other related orthopedic news.

BLOG: Youth football injuries can be prevented, minimized with some precaution

Football is one of the most popular sports played by young athletes in the United States. It also leads all other sports in the number of yearly injuries. In 2007, more than 920,000 athletes under 18 years of age were treated in the emergency room, doctor’s office and/or clinics for football-related injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Some injuries are unavoidable. However, some can be prevented or at least minimized with certain precautions.

Traumatic injuries can occur during football due to the combination of intense practice sessions, seasonal hot weather, high speeds and full contact. More so than other sports, football players’ bodies are susceptible to collision injuries because of the man-to-man contact involved in blocking and tackling. Despite the use of protective equipment, major injuries, such as concussions, spinal injuries, fractures and knee injuries, occur with regularity. Even though many football-related injuries occur during game situations, the reality is most injuries occur during practice because of the increased number of minutes of exposure that football players have in practice compared to actual competitive situations.

While there is little that can done to reduce the intensity of play during games, there are many strategies one can use to reduce contact at practice and thus control the risk of concussions and other serious injuries. For example, common sense tells you to be able to achieve the risk reduction needed for concussions in practice, then we should obviously limit the number of full-contact practices and eliminate drills that put players at high risk of head injury. That means only a small percentage of practices should be devoted to full contact.

Concussion

Concussions are one the most serious and most common football injuries, which are caused by injury to the brain following trauma. The problem continues to be that while it is obvious a player has suffered a concussion if he blacks out after a hit, coaches must be aware of the other warning signs as well. Therefore, consciousness does not preclude a serious concussion. Parents, players, coaches and other medical providers should be aware that if a young athlete expresses any change in his mental state, including confusion, amnesia, headache, struggling for balance, numbness or tingling, nausea, vomiting or drowsiness, he should be removed immediately and not allowed to return until he has been evaluated by a health care professional.

There is no such things as a “ding” to the head anymore. If there is even a thought that a young football player has sustained a concussion, then he is to immediately be removed from the game and sidelines to undergo a through evaluation for concussion. Under no circumstances should the athlete be given nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications or aspirin as they could lead to further bleeding or swelling.

Traumatic knee injuries

While concussions and spinal cord injuries associated with collisions in football are the most serious injuries, there are other injuries that are also considered serious. Traumatic injuries to the knee can be controlled by limited practice contact and having referees apply the safety rules not only in the competitive games but also in practice.

Among the traumatic injuries that football players can sustain are injuries to the cruciate ligaments, patella, meniscus and articular cartilage. Combination tears of an ACL and MCL are more serious than a isloated ligament tear. Knee dislocations are the most serious knee injuries, which can be limb threatening.

Any of these injuries can affect football players’ long-term involvement in the sport and life beyond football. Hard surfaces and cutting motions contribute to a number of other injuries, which are not 100% preventable, but the risk factors must be recognized and the injuries associated with youth football should be curtailed as much as possible.

Reference:

Andrews JR, Yaeger D. Any Given Monday: Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them for Athletes, Parents, and Coaches – Based on My Life in Sports Medicine. Scribner; New York; 2013.

James R. Andrews, MD, is a founding partner and medical director of the Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine in Gulf Breeze, Fla. He also is a co-founder of the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Ala. He can be reached at the Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine, 1040 Gulf Breeze Pkwy., Suite 203, Gulf Breeze, FL 32561; email: info@theandrewsinstitute.com.