According to the San Francisco Spine Institute at Seton Medical Center in Daly City, California, up to 1.5 million young males play football each year, with an estimated 1.2 million football-related injuries. About 700 deaths are associated with football playing every year.
That's about 14 football-related injuries or fatalities for every 100,000 boys who play the game. The number of girls who play football is much smaller; it is estimated that between 4,000 and 5,000 suffer football-related injuries each year.
The incidence of certain injuries varies by position. For example, offensive linemen are about twice as likely as defensive players to suffer a neck injury from a violent hit. Quarterbacks tend to be injured more often than other players; they're exposed to more hits and can be injured by their own hands while trying to protect themselves from further injury.
Lack of awareness and training may also contribute to football injuries. For example, a study of college football players found that those who didn't know how to properly use protective equipment were more likely to suffer injuries to the head and neck.
Finally, players who suffer multiple injuries have a higher rate of returning to the field than those who are not healed enough to play.
In high school and junior high school football, the rate of injuries with partial neurological recovery was 0.07 per 100,000 participants (1,500,000 high school and junior high school players). At the collegiate level, the rate was 2.66. The majority of catastrophic spinal cord injuries occur during sports. In the United States, football is responsible for about 20% of all spinal cord injuries.
The risk of suffering a spinal cord injury while playing football is 1 in 300 for an average-sized male student. The risk increases with age and body size such that men over 21 years old and over 195 pounds have a risk of 1 in 50. Women are at less risk than men; however, women who play college football are almost twice as likely to suffer a spinal cord injury as men who play the same position.
Spinal cord injuries can be classified according to the level of the injury: cervical, thoracic, or lumbar. Most spinal cord injuries occur at the level of the neck or trunk. Football players are on their feet for long periods of time and are often tackled hard enough to cause additional damage above or below the actual site of the injury. This is why many serious cases involve multiple levels of the spine being injured.
After a spinal cord injury has been diagnosed, doctors must determine the severity of the injury.
According to recent data from the US Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 8.6 million sports injuries occur each year. Of these, about 17% are serious enough to require medical attention.
The most common types of injuries that occur while playing sports include ankle sprains/breaks, cuts, fractures, and strains/tears. Other less common injuries include brain disorders (such as concussion), eye problems (such as abrasions or bruises), heat-related illnesses (such as heatstroke or heat exhaustion), and poisonings (from ingesting chemicals during play).
Sports injuries can be caused by the nature of the sport itself (for example, being hit with a ball) or by unsafe practices (such as not using proper protection when skiing). Some sports are more likely than others to cause injury because they are physically demanding (such as running track and field events or soccer matches). In addition, some sports have risks associated with them because they often are played without adequate supervision by trained personnel (such as ice hockey or inline skating).
It is difficult to determine exactly how many injuries occur during sports activities. One reason for this is that some people choose not to report their injuries. Also, some injuries may be reported but not necessarily considered serious enough to require medical attention.
In NCAA men's soccer, the total injury rate is 7.7 per 1,000 athlete exposures (games and practices combined). There were around 55,000 injuries and 7.1 million athlete exposures between 2004 and 2009. This means that there are on average more than one injury per game for most teams.
The highest injury rate was by far for women's college soccer players, at 11.0 per 1,000 athlete exposures. There were about 3,500 women's college soccer players in 2004. The lowest rate was for men's professional soccer players, at 4.3 per 1,000 athlete exposures. There were about 5,900 men's professional soccer players in 2004.
The number of injuries increased with age. More than half (53%) of all injuries occurred among players older than 25 years old.
The most common types of injuries included strains/sprains (28%), fractures (17%), and lacerations (10%).
The majority of injuries required a day off from play (60%). Only 6% resulted in longer term disability.
The most common place for an injury to occur was on turf fields (34%). Other common places were indoors (23%) and natural grass fields (18%).
Cervical-spine injuries are believed to affect 10-15% of all football players, with linemen and defensive players being the most vulnerable. The incidence of cervical spine injury among football players is likely underreported because many patients do not seek medical attention for these injuries.
There are several factors that may increase a player's risk of suffering a cervical-spine injury while playing football. These include being overweight or obese, having weak neck muscles, having poor tackling technique, and making repetitive motions with the head while it is bent forward. Players who suffer such an injury may need surgery to either stabilize the area or remove one or more vertebrae to correct any alignment problems. Recovery time can be long—many players report losing months of training camp practice time as they recover—but some athletes have returned to play at a high level.
Football is a dangerous sport that can cause serious damage to the body if precautions are not taken. It is important that players understand their own risks when playing the game and take appropriate measures to prevent injury.
The number of cervical-spine injuries reported by players on college and professional teams has increased over the past 20 years. This may be due to players becoming more aware of the dangers of this type of injury or changing reporting practices.