gym class, PE class, physical education

Gym Class Injuries Highlight Genders’ Different Injury Risks

August 05, 2009 07:30 AM
by Liz Colville
A new study suggests that the rate of injury in school gym classes has risen by 150 percent, and finds that girls and boys tend to suffer from different injuries.

Most of the Gym Injuries Aren’t Serious

Ohio State University researchers have found that “injuries related to physical education (PE) increased 150 percent—from 24,000 in 1997 to about 62,000 in 2007,” Steven Reinberg of HealthDay News wrote, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Lara McKenzie of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, doesn’t know why injuries are increasing but doesn’t think the increase is due to higher participation in PE; statistics show that PE participation has actually declined “over the last couple of decades,” she says.

Approximately 98 percent of the injury cases studied appeared to be minor as the patients were “seen and released,” McKenzie said. The majority of those that were hospitalized—about 75 percent—were boys.

The boys primarily had injuries on their heads resulting from group activity, whereas the girls mostly had “strains and sprains to the legs” resulting from individual activities.

The study findings shed light on the different injury risks posed to male and female athletes, examined in depth by Michael Sokolove of The New York Times Magazine last year. Sokolove wrote about the prevalence of injuries, such as tears in the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) of the knee among female soccer players, and what such early injuries might spell for the women later on in their careers or in life.

The most injury-causing activities in the Ohio State study were “running, basketball, football, volleyball, soccer or gymnastics,” McKenzie said.

Background: Youth sports-related injury stats and gender differences

According to the factsheet “Sports Injury Statistics” from the Children’s Hospital Boston, “Almost one-third of all injuries incurred in childhood are sports-related injuries.” Most injuries tend to happen during sports that involve contact or collision, such as football or soccer. But they can also happen on the playground, while riding a bike or participating in an “extreme” individual sport such as skateboarding, snowboarding or in-line skating.

“Children and adolescents who are just beginning a sport or activity are at greater risk for injury,” the article adds, which may help explain why PE class, the setting for a variety of sports and exercise, is also the setting for many injuries. The article also notes that “[d]uring puberty, boys suffer more injuries more severely than girls.”

Types of injuries also tend to be more prevalent in one gender or the other. For example, shoulder injuries, though not exceedingly common, are more common among high school boys than girls, ScienceDaily reported in January, citing an Ohio State University study. The study generally found that “shoulder injuries were relatively common in predominately male sports,” such as baseball and wrestling, according to ScienceDaily, and “[p]layer-to-player contact was associated with nearly 60 percent of high school athletes' shoulder injuries.”

Female hormones appear to play a role in the prevalence of ACL injuries in girls. According to research published in the Journal of Athletic Training in 2008, the chance of a woman getting an ACL injury is “greater during the preovulatory phase” of her menstrual cycle, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) Web site reported at the time. “The mechanical and molecular properties of the ACL are likely influenced not only by estrogen, but also by the interaction of several sex hormones, secondary messengers, remodeling proteins and mechanical stresses,” NATA added.

Reference: Youth sports injury prevention

According to U.S. News & World Report, Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, told HealthDay News he believes “younger children are being taught how to play sports rather than being given basic training in movement and body awareness,” which can lead to injuries down the line. But playing several sports as a child and adolescent could also help kids prevent injuries, he said.

For ACL and other injury prevention, both girls and boys can make use of a warm-up routine designed by the Santa Monica Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Group as part of their ACL Prevention Project. The routine includes stretching, drills and running.

The KidsHealth article “Preventing Children’s Sports Injuries” lists common types of sports injuries in children, as well as factors to be aware of in injury prevention, such as mental development (coordination and reflexes are slower in younger children); physical growth (the force of impact created by older athletes is greater); and risk assessment.

FindingDulcinea’s Web Guide to Injuries has useful information for those looking for answers on sports injuries, such as strains, sprains or fractures. Find reputable medical sites and ways to get professional help.

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