Until it hurts… not so much
Great news! According to a study published in the online version of the medical journal Pediatrics, the number of youth baseball-related injuries reported by the nation’s hospital emergency departments dropped 24.9 percent between 1994 and 2006. The study’s authors said better safety equipment — helmets, mouth guards, breakaway bases — have gone a long way toward reducing the injury rate.
Bad news! According to that same study, the decrease also could be because there are more options than the hospital emergency room these days. For example, when my son hurt himself playing basketball, I took him to an urgent care center, not the hospital. Those visits would not show up in the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, the source data for the Pediatrics study. Also, overuse injuries are not the most likely to show up in the emergency department.
Still, even if the numbers aren’t 100 percent surefire, they’re still interesting. Your kid’s most likely injury, if you’re taking him to the hospital emergency room: soft tissue damage (mostly, meaning bruising) to the face (13.2 percent) and lacerations (cuts) to the face (also, 13.2 percent). Basically, getting hit in the face with a ball is the biggest injury problem. It’s a strong argument for masks on batting helmets, and masks for pitchers, first base and third base, the kind you see softball players wearing. Being hit the ball results in 46 percent of all injuries recorded in the study, while being hit by the bat is next at 24.9 percent. Getting injured while sliding ranked third, at 9.6 percent, but it ranked first, at 30.9 percent, for cause of fractures, a rate weighted by the higher incidence of sliding injuries among those 13 to 17.
The study itself notes the criticism of NEISS data because it doesn’t track much of anything beyond age of player and injury — no notes on days missed playing, or whether it was in a league or casual game, or what position a player was on the field when the injury occurred. The NEISS, and study, doesn’t track whether an injury was caused by overuse. So the study is mostly just an interesting little read. But it still gives a few clues into how and why kids get hurt, and what adults can do to lessen those chances while keeping the game loose and fun.