(Reuters Health) – Younger boys who play lacrosse are more likely to get injured and sustain concussions than high school or college players, a U.S. study suggests.
Researchers looked at injuries per minute of athletic exposure (AE), which includes both practices and competitions, for 21 youth boys’ teams, 22 high school boys’ teams, and 20 college men’s teams over three lacrosse seasons.

In youth boys’ lacrosse there were 268 injuries during 26,070 AEs, for an injury rate of 10.3 per 1,000 AEs, the study found. That compares with an injury rate of 5.3 per 1,000 AEs in high school lacrosse and 4.7 per 1,000 AEs for college players.

Concussions were also more common in youth lacrosse, with an injury rate of 0.7 per 1,000 AEs compared with 0.3 per 1,000 AEs in high school and college.

“For younger kids playing youth lacrosse, it’s injuries due to contact with equipment such as the stick or ball,” said lead study author Zachary Kerr, an exercise and sport science researcher at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. “For older athletes, it is a mix of chronic and acute injuries.”

When researchers looked only at injuries that kept players off the field for at least 24 hours, the picture looked different, with the highest injury rates for college athletes, the study found.

But when researchers looked at these more serious injuries in addition to more minor injuries that didn’t sideline players for long, then the youngest players had the highest injury rates.

It’s possible this means younger players are getting more medical attention, Kerr said by email.

“I think with younger athletes, the athletic trainers that were on-site wanted to provide care as best they could for every injury no matter how small or minor it could have been,” Kerr said.

“And I don’t see this as a bad thing,” Kerr added. “Rather, I see it as instilling a culture at an early age that it is okay to talk to an adult when they think they are injured and may need care.”

Across all levels of the sport, lower extremity injuries were the most common.

Nearly half of all youth injuries were due to equipment contact, with the majority being from stick contact, followed by ball contact.

Equipment contact was also responsible for more than half of head, face, and neck injuries for youth players. But it accounted for just 43 percent of these injuries in high school lacrosse and 17 percent of these injuries for college players.

Injury rates were generally higher during games than during practices.

The study was based on a small number of teams at each level of lacrosse and may not represent injury or concussion rates for all players nationwide, researchers note in Pediatrics.

Still, the results suggest that youth lacrosse should focus more on skill development to reduce the risk of stick and ball injuries, the study authors note. By college, coaches should focus on training players to prevent non-contact injuries.

Parents also need to be vigilant about watching for injuries and making sure players learn from an early age that it’s important to get checked out after any injury, Kerr advised.

“Gone are the days that parents could drive to the closest youth league and drop their kids off to play,” Kerr said. “Parents today must be active components of their children’s health and safety within sports.”

“This includes ensuring their children play in a league or on a team that has injury prevention strategies in place, including medical presence and an emergency action plan for severe or catastrophic events,” Kerr advised. If these leagues don’t provide the care and access to care that the parent wants, they should seek another league.”

[Source: Reuters Health]