Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Cutting Edge Research: Fouls and Hard Tackles – Injuries related to Illegal Activity

Illegal activities occur in all sports. In soccer, the Laws of the Game govern all aspects of play and infractions can range from acts as harmless as under-inflated balls to more severe acts such as serious foul play or fighting. In most instances, referees penalize the offending team through cards, penalty or indirect kicks. However, in some cases, the consequence of the infraction extends well beyond the assessed penalty. Both minor and major injuries often result from illegal play. Whether or not the act was unintentional or intentional, injuries resulting from illegal activity can force an athlete to miss both practice and playing time.

Christy Collins and colleagues at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Ohio State University surveyed athletic trainers in an effort to determine the incidence of injuries caused by illegal activity. They report that more than 6% of all high school sports-related injuries are due to illegal activity. Their article is published in the February 2008 issue of Injury Prevention.

Throughout the 2005-206 and 2006-2007 high school athletic seasons, certified athletic trainers from across the US recorded information about injuries sustained during games and matches. An injury was defined as one that occurred during game play, required medical attention by a physician or trainer and resulted in missed participation for at least one day. The trainers also recorded if the injury occurred as the result of an action that was ruled illegal by the referee or a disciplinary committee. The information was entered into a national database.

Nearly 1 million competition exposures were examined (a competition exposure is a single player participating in a single game). There were a total of 4.75 injuries per 1000 exposures. Of those injuries, 6.4% were attributed to illegal activity. The proportion of illegal activity injuries for boys and girls soccer was around 11.5%. By comparison, 14% occurred in girls basketball and 0.7% in girls softball. The most often reported injuries were minor, resulting in <7>21 days. Concussions and contusions of the head and face were by far the most common illegal activity injuries.

The authors conclude that illegal activity is an often overlooked risk factor for sports related injuries. Unfortunately, the authors were not able to distinguish which injuries occurred as the result of an inadvertent activity such as a poorly executed tackle from those that involved intentional foul play (e.g. fighting). However, they stressed that both coaching and stringent officiating might reduce the incidence of these types of injuries.I would also add parenting to that list. In any case, clamping down on illegal activity by teaching players proper technique and setting an example that discourages intentional acts, the incidence of injuries on the pitch may be reduced by more than 10%.