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A growing number of Americans may be engaging in physical activity, but that also means a growing number of Americans are getting injured while doing so—to the tune of about 8.6 million episodes in 2014, according to a recent study from the US Department of Health and Human Services. The analysis, based on National Health Interview Survey data from 2011 to 2014, also sheds light on where injuries are taking place, what activities were involved, and what areas of the body are most often affected.

Authors of the study claim their analysis is the first to take a broad look at recreation-related injuries by using data that reflects, among other things, all medically attended injuries, not just emergency department (ED) visits. They write that focusing solely on ED data "may underestimate the overall burden of injury from sports and recreation activities."

Among the findings in the study:

  • The average annual injury estimate of 8.6 million per year represents an age-adjusted rate of 34.1 per 1,000 population.
  • About half of all injuries were treated in a setting other than an ED, and even fewer required hospitalization—about 2.7%, or 230,000 individuals.
  • Most of the injury episodes (65%) involved individuals aged 5-24 years, with the highest rate registered by children 5-14, at 76.6 per 1,000 (86 per 1,000 for boys, 66.8 for girls).
  • An estimated 2.9 million injuries annually—just over a third of all injuries—occurred at a "sports facility, athletic field, or playground."
  • The most prevalent activity related to injury varied by age group. For children aged 5-14, and adults 25 and older, "general exercise" topped the list, at 10.1 per 1,000 for the younger group, and 3.2 per 1,000 for the adults. Among individuals aged 15-24, basketball edged out general exercise for the top spot, at 7.9 per 1,000 (general exercise was close behind at 7.5). After that, activities began to vary by age group, with football, "playground," gymnastics/cheerleading, and pedal cycling rounding out the top 5 for the 5- 14-year-olds; soccer, football, and gymnastics/cheerleading taking the third, fourth, and fifth positions, respectively, for the 15- 24-year-old group; and "recreational sport’ (racquet sports, golf, bowling, hunting, fishing, hiking, and other leisure sports), basketball, pedal cycling, and water sports completing the top 5 list for the group aged 25 and older.
  • The highest percentage of injuries reported—about 27.9 per 1,000—were related to a fall, followed by overexertion (16.8), "struck by or against" (15.4), "transportation" (15.4), and "cut or pierce" (12.3).
  • Sprains and strains accounted for the largest portion of injury types, at 41.4 per 1,000. Fractures, at 20 per 1,000, were next, followed by contusions (19), open wound (10), traumatic brain injury (4.5), and dislocation (2.9).
  • The most frequently injured area of the body was the lower extremities, at 42 per 1,000 individuals, followed by upper extremities (30), head/neck (16), and trunk (10).

Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA.


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