Jan 29, 2015
NCAA Injuries Breakdown

By Randall W. Dick, MS, FACSM

The NCAA was created more than 100 years ago over safety concerns associated with the new sport of football and its dangerous formation, the “flying wedge.” Consistent with its health and safety foundation, the NCAA created the Injury Surveillance System (ISS) in 1982 to identify “flying wedges” (injury risks) in a variety of college sports. Certified athletic trainers at participating institutions provided injury information that allowed appropriate NCAA committees to develop health and safety policies and rules applicable to student-athlete welfare.

This 25-year collaboration between the NCAA and the NATA has created the largest ongoing collegiate sport injury database in the world. In a special spring issue of the Journal of Athletic Training, the quarterly scientific publication of the NATA, a group of lead authors summarize 16 years (1988-89 through 2003-04) of critical NCAA ISS information from 15 college sports.

The information, collected by athletic trainers, has and will continue to help shape decisions regarding health and sports safety issues and further injury prevention research designed to improve athletic programs and the quality of student-athlete care. Several historic changes in college sports policies and rules have been based on these data:

• 1994 analysis of the risk of HIV transmission in college athletics that led to appropriate response to bleeding in the athletic environment based on universal precaution principles. • 1995 analysis of concussion injuries in ice hockey that led to rules changes and officiating emphasis on reduced hitting from behind and contact to the head in the sport • 1997 revision in spring football regarding permissible equipment and contact in practices to reduce injury risk. • 2003 mandate for protective eyewear for female lacrosse players to reduce the small but real risk of significant eye injury. • 2003 modifications of permissible equipment and multiple practice days in preseason football practices to reduce heat illness and general injury risk. • 13-year analysis of noncontact anterior cruciate ligament injuries in basketball and soccer players that led to a focus on prevention efforts for female athletes, who have a higher risk for these types of injuries than their male counterparts.

In general, participation in college athletics is safe, but these data identify modifiable factors that, if addressed through injury prevention initiatives, may contribute to lower injury rates in college sports. Here are some conclusions the researchers drew after monitoring 15 NCAA sports for 16 years:

Overriding information:

• More than 50 percent of injuries were to the lower extremities. Ankle sprains accounted for 14 percent of these injuries. • Preseason practice injury rates were two to three times higher than injury rates during the regular seasons. • Competition injury rates were higher than practice injury rates. • Rates of concussions and ACL injuries increased significantly, likely due in part to improved reporting and identification of these injuries.

General findings:

• Competition injury rates did not change substantially over time (though rates appear to be declining over the past few years). • Three sports showed decreased competition injury rates; two showed decreased practice injury rates. • Sports involving collision (e.g. football, wrestling) had the highest injury rates in both games and practices. • Sports that limit or restrict player contact (e.g. soccer, basketball, women’s ice hockey) still have a significant number of injuries caused by player contact.

As a result of these findings, the following injury prevention techniques may make college sports even safer:

• Prophylactic ankle taping and bracing • Balance training exercise programs • Neuromuscular conditioning • Data driven rule/policy changes and subsequent evaluation

For more general and sport-specific information, please visit the NATA Web site.

(Please note that the recommendations associated with the reports are those of the invited authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the NATA, the NCAA, or the CDC).

Randall W. Dick, MS, FACSM, is the Associate Director of Research for the NCAA Injury Surveillance System and a lead author of the collegiate athletic injuries report in the special spring issue of the Journal of Athletic Training.

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