The 5 Most Common Causes of Injury to Kids

By Dan Peterson, TeamSnap's Sports Science Expert


In 2010, 8.6 million kids were treated for accidental injuries in U.S. emergency departments.  For years, researchers have been trying to get a clearer picture of the causes, breaking down injury types by age group.  But most studies only look at 5-year spans that really can’t capture the significant differences in development between kids even a year apart in age.  Now, new research pinpoints the leading causes of accidents year by year from age 1 to 18 for both boys and girls.

"There are huge numbers of children in the United States who play sports," said David Schwebel, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham and director of their Youth Safety Lab. "Injuries can and do occur when children are active in sports-related activities, and often they could be prevented."

Because kids grow so quickly with varying gross motor and decision-making skills, the traditional 5-year groupings in epidemiological studies can’t really distinguish what are appropriate safety guidelines for a specific age.

"Five-year spans are the historical breakdown of most epidemiological data," said Schwebel. "With adults, that breakdown makes sense. There's not a huge difference between a 40-year-old and a 44-year-old in terms of injury risk, but there is a huge difference between a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old or even between a 5-year-old and a 9-year-old.”

Using data from the 2001–2008 National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database, Schwebel and Carl Brezausek, M.S., former researcher in the Center for Educational Accountability and instructor in the UAB School of Education, examined medical records of over 2.5 million kids, ages 1-18, who visited U.S. emergency departments during that period.

They divided the data by individual ages and gender to find patterns of danger throughout the growth cycle.  Across all age groups, the five most common causes of injury were basketball, football, bicycling, playgrounds, and soccer.

As kids grow, the data showed that certain injury types peak at different ages. Playground incidents dominate up until age 9, while camping and watercraft injuries are seen most in the late teen years. Team sports cause the most injuries in the mid-teen years while cycling accidents reach their highest point around age 12 but are common throughout adolescence.

"We see this most clearly in the early years,” said Schwebel. “Children show increasing independence from their parents, and they're learning what their body can and can't do. Children have to constantly evaluate their body's capacity in terms of balancing, reaching, jumping or leaping, or hitting an opponent or a teammate. Part of that evaluation is physical, part of it is judgment, and part is in cognitive and decision-making skills."

The research has been published in the Journal of Athletic Training.

Dr. Schwebel advises parents to use these results to carefully choose age-appropriate activities that match both the physiological and maturity growth rates of their kids. With all of the health benefits of sports and exercise, risk of injury should not be a reason to shy away from staying active.

"There are more positives than negatives," he said. "We should continue to preach safety in activities that are organized and activities that are unorganized. I think it's the task of parents, coaches, school administrators and even children themselves to be wary that injuries can and do occur and that most are preventable."

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Dan Peterson is a recovering sports dad who is fascinated with sports science research, skill development and the athlete’s brain. He has written over 400 science-based articles across the Web and consults with parents, coaches and young players to help them understand the cognitive side of sports. You can visit him at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental and at @DanielPeterson.

Release Date: Dec 15 2014

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