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Friday, March 2, 2007

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL INJURIES: A Well Kept Secret

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL INJURIES:
A WELL KEPT SECRET

Few people realize how often football injuries occur in children of high school age. I believe this is one of the best kept secrets both locally and in the world of sports. I also believe that the popularity of high school sports is in part due to the high premium our society places on individuals to succeed and exceed in sports. We are a people in love with sports: football, baseball, basket ball, soccer, hockey, you name it.

But, few realize how many children get injured playing high school sports. Of all the sports played in high school, the major causes of injuries are due to football. In fact, I dare say that football related injuries account for the most of these probably to the extent that the totality of football injuries surpasses the total of all other injuries.

The 16 year old son of a very close friend sustained an injury to the C1 cervical vertebra, the vertebra injured in Christopher Reeves. The C1 vertebra is very special because it is the first of the vertebra located just at the base of the brain and it allows for some rotation motion. In the case of the son of my friend, a chip of bone was displaced laterally. If it were displaced anteriorly, it would have severed the cord and the boy would be a paraplegic.

The boy recovered very slowly, eventually having to have several of his vertebrae fused. It took many months for recovery.

Football-related injuries include injuries to the head and neck area; spinal column and cord; limbs; internal organs, such as liver and spleen; soft tissues; etc. Additionally, death on the field during games and practice ARE also common.

It is inconceivable to me why any competent and caring parent would allow a child to participate in such a dangerous sport. FOOTBALL SHOULD BE BANNED AS A HIGH SCHOOL SPORT.
Football related injuries are common even with the use of protected gear. High school boys are frequently clumsy and many have an attitude of indestructibility. The force of impact can be severe, the reason why the injuries can be so severe.

Contributing to the keeping of this well kept secret is the press. As I peruse the local newspaper each morning I read all about the insignificant things some of our local politicians do the major and minor controversies they create. I read about automobile accidents and the listing of all those individuals arrested. And, I look at the sports pages, the largest part of the newspaper dedicated to a single subject, and read ad infinitum about sports from the most insignificant local to the world stuff.

But NOWHERE can I find in our local newspaper a mention of this 16 year old boy on the verge of total paralysis from the neck down from a football injury at the local high school? No one wants to talk about it. Does anyone care?

Interesting reading for those of you who want to learn more can read the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research Report of the Annual Survey of Catastrophic Football Injuries 1977 to 2004. www.unc.edu/depts/nccsi/CataFootballData.htm (Search for football injuries)

Another important problem is the incidence of heat illnesses and heat stroke during preseason practices for high school players. A report describes that between 1995 and 2001, 21 high school football players died of heat stroke.
(www.acsm.org/publications/news_releases.htm 68k, 30.aug.2005). Uniforms and protective gear designed to protect players from injuries contribute to the overheating which results in heat related injuries. This is compounded by the custom of preseason practice which traditionally occurs in late summer when it is still quite hot in most areas of the United States.

This study finds that: the primary reasons for a football player to overheat on the field are intensity and duration of practice, the environment, and the uniform ... there’s also a variety of problems that a football player can have related to sweat losses and consequent fluid and electrolyte deficits. That can range from feeling a little off, to not performing well, to heat cramps or heat exhaustion or if it were unattended, even heat stroke. If a player’s body temperature reaches a certain threshold and they can no longer have the capacity to regulate temperature, it can run away from them and readily lead to death.

This should be food for thought for all parents who have children of high school age contemplating playing football.

nicola michael c. Tauraso, M.D.
Director, Tauraso Medical Clinic

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