Popular sports hurt many kids; treatment costly

Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2001

WASHINGTON -- The eight activities that cause the most muscle and bone injuries to children -- bicycling and basketball top the list -- stick America with a bill of about $33 billion a year, a new study says.

The sports tracked by the Consumer Product Safety Commission caused about 2.2 million bone and muscle injuries in 2000 to children ages 5-14, the report said.

Play is good, but children of these ages may not understand how to play safely and are not getting enough encouragement to do so, the study said.

''It's reminding us that kids do get hurt, but there are lots of steps we can take'' to prevent injuries, said Dr. John M. Purvis, coauthor of the study. ''We are not going to eliminate them, but reduction is something that could certainly happen.''

The study, which was presented Oct. 17 at an American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons' meeting in New York City, focused on injuries that orthopedic surgeons would see.

The report relied on CPSC data on hospital visits, and on agency formulas that project how many additional injuries are seen in doctors' offices and clinics. Data on costs were based on CPSC formulas that cover medical expenses, liability suit damage awards, a money value for pain and suffering, and wages lost by parents who take time off work because of a child's injury.

Bicycling led the list, with 764,251 reported injuries, of which 414,739 were musculoskeletal, said Purvis, an orthopedic surgeon in Jackson, Miss. Total costs of injuries were $13.2 million, of which $6 million was for musculoskeletal problems.

In second was basketball, with a total of 507,865 injuries, of which 406,747 were musculoskeletal. Musculoskeletal injuries ran up about $4.8 million of an all-injury total cost to society of $6.39 million. The study totaled only those costs related to orthopedic injuries; the overall costs would be far higher.

The rest of the injury big eight: football, roller sports such as inline skating and skateboarding, playground equipment, soccer, baseball and softball, and trampolines.

The study did not attempt to determine how common the injuries are among all participants. To do that would require data on the number of children who took part. CPSC does not tally that, although sporting goods industry groups make estimates based on surveys.

Nor did the report attempt to spot trends by looking at previous years of CPSC data. No one before had teased out muscle and skeletal injuries separately, Purvis said.

However, most of the injuries could have been prevented, Purvis said. For instance, in bicycling, wearing a helmet sharply reduces the risk of a potentially devastating head injury. But only one child in five wears a helmet, he said.

Similarly in basketball, mouth guards, eye protection and ankle braces can reduce injury, the report said.

In organized sports, the findings should serve as a heads-up to coaches, because full warmups and stretches could have prevented many of the sprains, Purvis said.

Community agencies could prevent many of the playground injuries by installing safer equipment, and arranging it so that bigger and faster older children do not mix with smaller and slower younger kids, Purvis said. Also, parents and doctors can do more to teach children how to play safe, he said.

CPSC and private groups such as the orthopedic surgeons organization have been trying to foster improvements.

''I think we have had an increased effort over the last 10 years to have an impact,'' said Dr. Vernon T. Tolo, the society's first vice president and head of orthopedics at Childrens Hospital, Los Angeles. ''But we can't measure it.''

And treatment has gotten better over the years, said Dr. Paul Stonseller, head of childrens' orthopedics at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. ''We are not placing children in bulky body casts for 8 to 10 weeks like we used to,'' he said. ''There's more appropriate use of braces. And spinal injuries are not missed like they used to be.''


On the Net:

Orthopaedic Society safety tips for athletes, featuring Cal Ripkin: http://www3.aaos.org/pubrel/ripken/cripken.pdf

CPSC kid safety site: http://www.cpsc.gov/kids/kidsafety/index.html

National Safe Kids Campaign: http://www.safekids.org

End Adv for Monday, Oct. 22, and thereafter

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