Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Making sport safer for our Children

When we think of sport, we think of fit athletes running around exuding good health: and that is true to a large extent, but as with all good things there is often a downside; and with sports the downside is injury. The figures for Australia are not healthy reading: according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics,

  • There were 42,452 sports and recreational related injuries in the year 2002 - 2003.
  • Although there were a greater number of females >15 involved in sport, 74% of hospitalizations due to sports related injuries were males.
  • The most dangerous sports per capita for 15 yrs olds and over were wheeled motor sports, followed by roller blades/skateboarders/skaters, Aussie Rules and horse related sports.
  • Sports injuries cost Australia $1.83billion in 2003.

One of the inconsistencies about modern sport is that our approach to athletes - and by this I mean all those who are involved in sporting activities - is "upside down", with mature athletes getting more appropriate training and preventative advice than our young athletes do. With the trend towards specialization at an early age, we are now seeing "overuse" injuries - previously the domain of professional athletes - which now account for approximately half of all youth injuries reported. According to US Prof James Andrews MD, an Orthopedic surgeon, the major problems are:
  1. Improper technique
  2. Ill fitting equipment
  3. Training errors
  4. Coach and parental pressure
  5. Failure of early injury recognition
When you think that following an ACL injury and repair (repair of the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee),  Xray imaging of the knee taken 10 years after the repair,  will show the early changes of arthritis, (and we are seeing more and more players in their early 20's having such repairs), then the specter arises that today's sporting heroes may well be facing joint replacements in their 40's, just when their children are reaching adolescence! As well as reducing the quality of life to the sufferer, it doesn't do much to project the image of a "healthy role model" for their offspring.

 The problem being that with young people, their muscles and ligaments haven't "caught up" with their inherent skills and levels of physical activity. The way forward is not prohibition, but through education: education of parents, education of schools, education (and accreditation of) sports coaches, and involvement of sports Physicians in the process, so that everyone involved is focused on the best possible outcome for the players, and then for the sport.

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