Last Friday on September 14, 2012, a Fitchburg teenager suffered a broken neck during a high school football game. Initially, nobody was aware of any kind of injury happening. During the first quarter of the Nashoba/Fitchburg football game, the teenager, while playing cornerback and wearing the number 30, took an unintended hit from a teammate while making a tackle. He then rose and walked to the sideline where he ultimately realized that something was wrong. The 17-year-old Fitchburg High senior was then taken to Umass Memorial Hospital where it was discovered that he had broken his C-1 vertebrae. Fortunately, he wouldn’t need surgery for the injury. But he would have to wear a halo for a time.
Through Twitter, the teenager confirmed his injury and thanked his classmates for the outpouring of love and support. Fitchburg’s high school coach, Dan Walker, was quoted as saying, “We are fortunate that [he] is going to be all right. He is a tough kid with a big heart. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”
This was another story that hit me personally because I played high school football and endured a fair share of battle wounds, from strained tendons to broken bones. But personal injury and high school sports, specifically football, has become more of a hot button issue during the last ten years. Injuries happen in all fields of athletics but there have even been questions about whether some sports can survive America’s current discussion of the risks children undertake while playing sports, especially concussions.
Here are some recent high school sports statistics from a website called www.momsteam.com:
• There are between an estimated 1.6 and 3.8 million sports-related concussions in the United States every year,1, 2 leading The Centers for Disease Control (C.D.C.) to conclude that sports concussions in the United States have reached an “epidemic level.”
• A 2011 study8 of U.S. high schools with at least one athletic trainer on staff found that concussions accounted for nearly 15% of all sports-related injuries reported to ATs and which resulted in a loss of at least one day of play.
• According to the C.D.C., during the period 2001-2009 children and youth ages 5-18 years increased 62% to a total of 2.6 million sports-related emergency department (ED) visits annually, of which 6.5% (173,285) involved a traumatic brain injury, including concussion. The rate of TBI visits increased 57%, likely due to increased awareness of the importance of early diagnosis of TBI.
• For young people ages 15 to 24 years, sports are the second leading cause of traumatic brain injury behind only motor vehicle crashes.
There’s more you can read up on the website, including safety measures. I’m not interested in being the herald of bad news, especially when it comes to something I love as much as sports, even more because of the nostalgic affinity I hold towards high school sports. I know that if I was still a teenager, I’d probably want to play the games despite the risks. There is an incomparable sense of community and accomplishment that comes with playing team sports. But, over the years, the conversation about the increasing frequency of injuries has been building. And in the interest of protecting ourselves, and those we love, I think it’s essential to engage in that conversation from time to time. It’s like that old adage from the GI Joe cartoons: “Knowing is half the battle.”
And as always, Altman and Altman is available to discuss any injury concerns you may have. Its wealth of experience is invaluable resource. And someone is available to be contacted twenty-four hours a day.