Is Basketball Too Dangerous for Kids?

Jeanne Sager

basketballParents, it's time to stop worrying about your little football players.

At least they're not playing basketball.

A new study by Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, shows that it leads to a trip to the emergency room for nearly 400,000 kids annually.

And now the really scary part -- traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are up by 70 percent in kids and teens who sustained basketball-related injuries.

Is it time for helmets on the hardwood?

The Stir checked with Lara McKenzie, PhD, a principal investigator at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, who was involved with the study that will be published next month in Pediatrics, for some help with keeping our kids safe:

Is there a reason injuries in youth basketball are up? Is it more kids playing? More hard-core play? Less parental supervision?

Basketball is the most common team sport for girls and boys in the United States. Participation rates have increased by more than 10 percent for boys and almost 20 percent for girls in the past two decades.

There are a lot of children and adolescents playing basketball. From 1997 through 2007, an estimated 4,128,853 basketball-related injuries among children and adolescents 5-19 years of age were treated in emergency departments in the United States. Our study actually found a decrease in the number and rate of basketball-related injuries (21 percent decrease in the number of injuries and 24 percent decrease in the rate of basketball-related injuries).

So the injuries are high but there was a decrease, not an increase.

The girls and younger kids seem to be suffering the worst injuries, what makes them more at risk?

Girls were more likely to sustain traumatic brain injuries and injure the knee. Younger children (5-10 years of age) were more likely to injure the upper extremities and to sustain traumatic brain injuries and fractures and dislocations. Some would argue that traumatic brain injuries can be more severe, which is what you might mean when you say they're “suffering the worst injuries.”

It's difficult to say exactly what makes young children and girls more susceptible to these types of injuries. Some have described the continual increases in the size of players and the strength of the girls’ game, which may in part explain the rapid increase in TBIs for girls.

Younger children may be more susceptible to these injuries and the fact that their bodies are still developing physically and they are still learning coordination and skills at that age. Some say it’s the ever-increasing level of competitiveness and intensity of training and play, starting at younger ages.

Should parents take this news as a reason to keep their kids out of the sport? Why/why not?

Increased athletic participation has health benefits, so we definitely encourage kids to be active and to play basketball and other sports. Most physical activity has inherent risk of injury.

Basically the healthy benefits of physical activity usually outweigh the injury risks; although we want kids to be as safe as possible when playing sports.

What can parents do to prevent these injuries in their kids? Is there gear we're missing? Should we be looking to ensure coaches are better trained?

To address the problem of traumatic brain injuries and manage them effectively, education of coaches, athletes, and parents is vital. Prevention of traumatic brain injuries is challenging, individualized prevention efforts should be targeted towards players with a history of concussions.

For young children, age-appropriate basketballs should be used, these may decrease the rate of concussions and finger-related injuries. Rough play should be discouraged to minimize collisions.

There is a new free online training from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that helps prepare coaches who are concerned about concussion in youth sports. The training can be completed in less than 30 minutes and trains coaches to recognize a possible concussion, better understand what to do if they suspect an athlete has a concussion, and learn how to help prevent or prepare for concussions in a variety of youth sports.

Have you always looked at basketball as a benign sport?


Image via laffy4yk/Flickr

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