Injuries among Utah high school athletes are greatly underreported, a study being conducted by the Utah Department of Health, the University of Utah and Utah State University suggests.
Five trainers located in high schools in four school districts are compiling statistics and comparing them with the data shared with the state through a student injury report system. The state system, in effect since 1984, has reported approximately 30,000 injuries, not all of them related to athletics, said Cal Cazier, child injury prevention coordinator in the health department's Bureau of Child Health.The trainers involved in the study are under the direction of sports medicine specialists at the U. and at the Western Surgical Center in Logan. Chuck Graybill of the U. sports medicine center oversees trainers at East High School in Salt Lake City and Viewmont High School in Bountiful. Dale Mildenburger, head athletic trainer at USU and a member of the Logan center staff, directs the study at Logan, Mountain Crest and Skyview high schools in Cache County, where trainers are working out internships.
Pat Cox is working with Cazier to compile the data being gleaned through the study.
The data being accumulated by the trainers do not provide an "apples-to-apples" comparison with the information being reported by the schools, said Cazier,since different criteria are used. Nevertheless, they are helping to create a picture to help health department specialists determine how, when and where injuries occur.
The statewide form generates a report on an injury only when a child misses school or if a health-care provider is involved. The trainers are reporting on injuries that cause a student to lose time from athletic practices. This fall, the study data may be used to develop an updated reporting form for the state as a whole, Cazier said.
"We are concerned that more high school injuries are occurring than are being reported," he said. "The problem appears to be greater than previously reported, which may be due to the different reporting criteria the trainers are using.
"There is clearly some significance in the number of injuries being reported that occurred in inter-school competition. They have not shown up in the student injury reporting system."
Although the trainer research is still in an early stage, the number of injuries reported by the study group is comparatively much higher than the number reported by school officials, Cazier said.
Through November, 416 athletics-related injuries had been reported through the statewide system, but reports tend to trickle in, he said, and the number could go up somewhat. There are 117 middle and junior high schools in the state and 102 high schools. In the same time period, the five schools involved in the study reported 166 injuries.
The reported pattern of injuries also differed from the two sources, Cazier said. In the statewide reports, 309 of the injuries reportedly occurred during physical education class; 60 in after-school practice; 35 in interschool competition and 12 in intramural competition.
The trainers reported that 102 injuries occurred during practices; 47 in interschool competition; 16 in intramural play; and one in physical education activity.
By mid-January, the five test schools had accumulated 292 injury reports. No comparable state figure was available. Football accounted for 201 of the injuries, an understandably high rate, since the reporting period covered the football season. Basketball players suffered 23 injuries; wrestlers 24; soccer and volleyball players (girls) 14 and 15 respectively; fighters and gymnasts, three each; runners two; dancers one and "others" six.
The degree of the injuries ranged from minor to serious enough to create long-term effects.
Over time, studying the most frequently occurring injuries may help health officials determine what factors contribute to injury, such as equipment design, time spent in training before competition, training procedures or lack of adequately trained personnel in athletic programs.
In addition, as Utah data grows, it can be compared with other state and national figures, Cazier said.
In 1986, in its effort to understand the nature of child injuries, the prevention program took a random sampling of hospital emergency room cases involving patients from infancy through age 19.
That survey determined that 17.3 percent of 5,470 reported injuries were sports-related. Football was involved in 15.2 percent of the sports injuries and basketball 15.1 percent. Trampolines and skateboards were also responsible for many injuries that brought children to hospital emergency rooms.
While the data on the current study are still too incomplete to come to conclusions, Cazier said he hopes that eventually, they will provide guidance for developing prevention programs.
"Before we can impact injuries, we have to know what the real problems are . . . We are not attacking sports, but they need to be safe. We have to have data to help make them safer."
Cazier expects that the study may also lead to the conclusion that having qualified trainers available for high school athletes could help prevent injury. In the five schools gathering data, trainers have the authority to keep an athlete from playing after an injury until a medical doctor has cleared the youth to resume the activity.