UND partners with ‘Safe Kids Grand Forks’ to examine pediatric injuries

Growing up is hard enough for today’s kids, but now research has shown it’s even riskier than most parents think, and this time of year is no exception.

Safe Kids Grand Forks and Altru Health System recently partnered with University of North Dakota student Tom Schuch, a master’s degree student in kinesiology, and his advisor, Dr. Dennis Caine (physical education, exercise science & wellness), and Carma Hanson (Safe Kids Grand Forks/ UND College of Nursing), to conduct a 10- year chart review of sports related injuries. Other members of Schuch’s thesis committee included Brett Goodwin (biology) and Mark Romanick (physical therapy).

“No such study of its kind has been done in Grand Forks,” said Schuch, “looking specifically at pediatric sports and recreational injury. I wanted to see if youth in Grand Forks were affected by injury in the same way that kids in the rest of the nation are affected.”

Safe Kids Grand Forks brings together the expertise of individuals in our community who are dedicated to reducing childhood injuries and this research and subsequent recommendations are products of such partnerships. Carma Hanson, Safe Kids coordinator, was thrilled to be a part of this research.

“We felt it was important to see how injuries have changed over the years,” said Hanson, “and if younger kids are being impacted since they are starting contact sports at earlier ages.  As we plan and implement our safety initiatives, it is helpful to understand the issues affecting the children and youth in the region that we serve so as to be effective in our messaging and injury prevention strategies.”

Nearly 30 million children and adolescents participate in organized sports annually in the United States. It is estimated that 3.7 million of these participants report to hospital emergency rooms each year with an injury.  The purpose of the study was to describe the frequency and distribution of pediatric sports and recreational injuries treated at a regional hospital over a 10-year period.

“The data showed that pedal bike injuries were most common, especially among children under 14 years of age,” said Schuch. “A possible reason for this may be attributed to the fact that many children (both girls and boys) own bicycles. They can be used frequently during the day for the purpose of getting to a specific destination or just for recreation. The more children own and use bicycles, the greater the exposure to risk of bicycle-related injury.

“The data were inconclusive,” he said, “in determining if the number of sports and recreation injuries has increased or decreased over the 10-year period. However, it would be hard to determine the incidence rate of injury solely from this study since the population-at-risk and their exposure to risk of injury is unknown. Our focus was directed at injuries reported to the Altru hospital emergency room. Injuries reported to primary care doctors, sports medicine clinics or otherwise not treated by a healthcare professional were not available and not included in this data analysis.”

Nonetheless, the hospital data provide a snapshot of the occurrence of more serious injuries and an estimate of the morbidity load on the hospital emergency room (ER).

Findings:

•   Numbers: During 2000-2009, 2,855 injuries were treated at the hospital ER. The vast majority of these injuries were treated and released on the same day (99.7 percent).There were no sport-and recreation-related fatalities.

•   Boys vs. Girls: Males sustained 74.2 percent and females sustained 25.8 percent of all injuries.  The peak frequency of injuries occurred at ages 11-13 for girls and 13-15 for boys, or around the time of the adolescent growth spurt.

•   It Hurts: Overall, the forearm was injured most often (18.3 percent) followed by head/ neck (17.3 percent), and hand (16.8 percent). However, injury location varied by gender. Among males, head/neck injuries occurred most whereas among females, forearm injuries occurred most.

•   Falls in the Fall: Injuries were distributed throughout all months of the year but September was marked by a relatively high percentage (18 percent).

•   Types of Injury: Soft tissue injuries were the most common injury type, followed closely by fractures.

•   Concussions. 203 concussions were treated, with most (79.8 percent) affecting youth 10-19 years old. Concussions were more commonly associated with football (24.6 percent), hockey (21.7 percent), and bicycling (21.7 percent).

•   A Body in Motion: Two-thirds of all injuries were associated with falls. Bicycle-related injuries were most  common (20.5 percent), followed by football (19.7 percent) and hockey (16.2 percent).

Recommendations:

•   Injury occurrence is greatest for males and females during the time of their pubertal growth sport (11-13 years for  girls and 13-15 years for boys).  Coaches could reduce training loads and delay skill progressions for young  athletes experiencing periods of rapid growth.

•   Given the relatively high proportion of head/neck injuries, combined with the finding that almost 1 in 4 of these injuries was associated with bicycle-riding, it makes good sense for children and youth to wear a helmet when riding their bicycle. Recent research has demonstrated the protective effects of bicycle helmets in preventing head injuries.

•   More than 15 percent of all head/neck injuries and almost 25 percent of concussions occurred playing football. In spite of a 1976 rule change outlawing the head as first point of contact in football, many players continue to use their head/helmet to tackle or block. There continues to be a pressing need for coaches and parents to educate young  players on proper techniques for blocking and tackling. The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury research emphasize that football players need to keep their head out of blocking and tackling.

•  It is evident that some age groups, and some sports and recreational activities, should be targeted for further research and injury prevention efforts.

Safe Kids Grand Forks works with a large network of agencies, businesses and individuals that connect with children and youth,” said Hanson.  “The information gained from this study will be shared with parents, athletes, coaches and others involved in the sports arena so as to implement strategies that will keep our young athletes safe, injury free and ‘in the game.’”

To obtain more safety tips, become a friend of Safe Kids Grand Forks on Facebook or sign up for our quarterly newsletter at www.altru.org (click on e-news and sign up for the Safe Kids Grand Forks newsletter).

The UND College of Education and Human Development has more than 1,400 undergraduate and graduate students in five departments including Counseling Psychology and Community Services; Educational Foundations and Research; Educational Leadership; Physical Education, Exercise Science and Wellness; and Teaching and Learning. The mission is fostering healthy human development and learning across the lifespan.

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