Sports are meant to be fun, right? A bit of friendly competition, a bit of bonding…and sometimes a trip to the ER. Most sports run the risk of an injury or two and some are more dangerous than others. There’s no definitive way to rank which sports are most dangerous, but we’ve used data from the NEISS 2010 Survey on ER admissions to find the sports with the highest number of injuries in a year. Of course, this doesn’t account for the fact that some sports are more popular than others – hockey is generally acknowledged to be pretty hazardous, but the total number of injuries doesn’t come anywhere near the more popular sports simply because fewer people play it. Also, there are some activities that are both functional and competitive – like cycling and skateboarding – but for the purposes of the list we’ve decided to include them. And before you decide to stop your child playing any sport ever, bear in mind that every total list is less than 590,118 – the number of people injured by chairs and sofas that year. So, it’s game on as we discover the Top 10 Most Dangerous Sports!
For many years written off as a relic from Enid Blyton’s school stories, lacrosse has had something of a comeback lately, with the formation of the Major League Lacrosse in 1999. It is still a relatively small professional scene, with only eight clubs, but there is a thriving amateur circuit which is probably where all the injuries come from – 90,634 of them in 2010. It is classified as a “collision sport” by the NCAA but, according to one lacrosse parent, around 40% of the injuries come from sprains and strains rather than from contact. Womens’ lacrossse is largely non-contact, and mens’ requires protective gear so it’s less to do with being clobbered by sticks and more to do with the physical exertion of playing. It’s relatively safe, but there were still over 90,000 injuries in a year – a lot for a less widespread sport, although it does all include figures for rugby and “miscellaneous ball sports”.
For some reason, the list differentiates between Skating (81,050 injuries) and In-line Skating (16,701) but combining the two gets you a grand total of 97,751. For both sets, the highest rate of injury occurs in 5-14-year-olds, suggesting that a lot of those injuries happen when kids are learning to skate and therefore falling over a lot. Another study of 186 roller-skating injuries gives the average age as 25.3, but also says skaters had a higher chance of being injured if they didn’t do other sports, “especially on their first try”. So it’s only dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing – the problem is the stage you go through when you’re trying to figure out what you’re doing…and that’s where the fractures and soft-tissue injuries occur…
8. Snowboarding and Skiing
There’s a few of these kind of “attach yourself to something and go somewhere at speed” kind of sports in the list, which will surprise absolutely no-one. These winter sports only come so far down the list because they’re very location-specific – if this was done by state, it’s unlikely that Florida would have huge amounts of snowboarding accidents. Still, the total is an impressive 103, 274 and 38,585 of those are in the 15-24 age group – again, not too surprising. As a third unsurprising fact, men make up around two thirds of all snowboarding (and skiing) injuries – so we can guess that a lot of these injured people are young men. a population group known for their love of speed and showing off. But that’s just a guess, of course…
And here’s another of those injury-inducing body attachments. Skateboard injuries totalled 130,627 in 2010 and again it was teenagers and young people hurting themselves, with 58,891 in the 5-14 age group and 56,190 in the 15-24 group. Again, there was also a clear male/female divide, with 110, 131 of those 130,000 injuries being men. You also have to give some kudos to the 185 pensioners that damaged themselves skateboarding – and hope they didn’t do any major damage. Obviously, skateboarding is a mode of transport as well as a competitive sport but we’re counting it because the majority of people that skate do it for fun rather than for commuting. Although that fun seems to end up in the ER a lot…
All these sports come with inherent risks, but swimming is the only one where you put yourself in danger by just entering the sports arena. Humans aren’t ideally designed to breathe in the water, and so it’s possible for even experienced swimmers to get into danger in the pool if something unexpected happens. But it’s not drowning that causes most swimming injuries – it’s the repetitive strain of doing the same strokes for miles on end and this is the main risk for competitive swimmers. There were 202,051 in total in 2010, although that also takes into account injuries caused by pool equipment. Enough to make you want to stay on dry land.
Of course, these sports are far more dangerous when there are other people involved, and contact sports like soccer are a prime source of injuries. The total for soccer is 226,142, which is quite high considering it’s a bit of a minority sport in America – there are just 11 teams in the professional league, the North American Soccer League. It’s unclear how many people play it at an amateur level, but those injuries have to come from somewhere – the 95,854 in the 5-14 age group suggest that a lot of them are due to kids having a kick-around rather than professional players. Those tackles can be quite vicious, even when it’s just a game in the yard!
Adding hard bats into a game only increases the chance of injury, doesn’t it? That’s what the injury statistics for baseball and softball – 282,008 – tell us. But bats actually feature little in the list of common baseball injuries, which include shoulder muscles tearing (from pitching), knee injuries from running and fractured skulls from balls moving at 100mph. The combination of fast running, fast swinging and people moving in different directions is clearly quite hazardous and once again it seems to be the younger players that get themselves hurt – 114,004 of the injuries are in the 5-14 age group. You can imagine there’s a lot of running the wrong way and banging heads together between bases!
One of the most notorious games for injuring teenagers is football. Despite all that protective equipment, 199,414 of them managed to sustain an injury in 2010 which probably led to a lot of time off school. But again, it’s dwarfed by the number of injuries in the 5-14 group – a massive 240,879 – and there are even 1,644 injuries in the 0-5 group – obviously the best way to sustain a national game is to start them very young. All of which leads to a total of 489,676, of which 462,506 were male. Remarkably, however, only 10,801 of these injuries required a hospital admission – that’s just 2% of all injuries, and less than the number of hospital admissions in that year for injuries related to opening cans (13,014). So it might seem like a very dangerous sport, and there are a lot of injuries but the volume of injuries is to do with the sheer popularity of the sport, and it seems that serious injury is rare. Still, strap the protective equipment on your kid before you let them play on the team.
You wouldn’t think that basketball would outdo football for danger, would you? But with a daunting 528,584 injuries, it does. The peak here is slightly later than football, with the majority being in the 15-24 group (258,225) and a further 102,212 in the 25-64s. But that’s not to say the kids don’t still hurt themselves – another 165,240 clock in at the 5-14 range. So, what’s so dangerous about basketball? Well, there’s the impact that jumping has on your body – compressing bones and putting strain on muscles – and the physical exertion of the constant dribbling when in play. A lot of the injuries are strains and sprains, with the hamstring being a common muscle to damage but, like football, you have to consider how popular basketball is when looking at the volume of injuries.
Now cycling may seem like a bit of a cheat, being a mode of transport as well as a sport, but considering that the national rate of cycle-commuters is just 0.61% (but on the rise), we can assume that most people who cycle do it for leisure rather than to get to work. And the vast majority of bicycle-related injuries are in the 5-14 age group – 206,546 out of the total 541,746. There’s also a frightening level of injury in the 0-4 age group, with over 28,000 preschooler visits by to the ER in 2010. Bikes are dangerous. They are high off the ground, relative to your height, they are vulnerable to the smallest dent in the road surface and they have to share space with cars and lorries – at least they do in cities like London, where 6 cyclists have died in the last few weeks. But for an independently-minded kid, there is nothing more convenient than a bike and so they remain popular with the 5-14s, even when they keep falling off them. But take comfort – 506,749 of those were “treated and released” to go crash again, so although bike injuries are common they’re rarely serious. Still, a safe winner of our “most dangerous sport” title.