More than 200 000 college athletes are injured in competition or practice each year, with men’s football and wrestling posing the highest risks, according to data that schools report to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
A recent analysis of the NCAA data showed that during the 5 academic years from 2009 to 2014, an estimated 1 053 370 injuries occurred during 176.7 million athlete exposures, measured as a single athlete’s participation in 1 competition or practice (Kerr ZY et al. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015;64:1330-1336).
Men’s college football, the sport with the most athletes in the study, resulted in the most annual injuries—47 199, or 36.3% of all male athletes’ injuries. Injured football players also had the highest rates of surgery (40.2%), emergency transport (31.9%), and recovery time. Men’s wrestling, however, had the highest overall injury rate at 13.1 per 1000 athlete exposures.
In women’s sports, soccer topped the injury list with 15 113 reported annually, and gymnastics accounted for the highest overall injury rate at 10.4 per 1000 athlete exposures. Swimming and diving had the lowest injury rates for both men and women athletes.
With the exception of men’s ice hockey and baseball, more sports injuries occurred during practice sessions than in competition, probably because practices are scheduled more often. But injuries sustained during competition were more severe, likely because players perform at a more intense level. For example, surgery was required for 5.4% of injuries that occurred during competition compared with 3.1% of injuries in practice.
Overall, 21.9% of all injuries kept the athlete out of play for at least a week. About half of all injuries were sprains or strains. Male and female athletes had similar numbers of injuries in soccer, swimming and diving, tennis, and indoor/outdoor track and field. Men had more injuries than women while playing basketball, ice hockey, and lacrosse, but female athletes were hurt more often than men while running cross country.
Continuous surveillance of college sports injuries can help determine whether prevention strategies used by the NCAA and others are effective, according to the authors.