Keeping youth sports safe

Aside from the physical benefits, youth sports are an effective means of shaping a child’s work habits and character. Approximately 30 million children under the age of 14 participate in organized youth sports throughout the United States. The problem is that many of these activities are unsafe.

The statistics are staggering:

• Approximately 8,000 children are treated in emergency rooms each day for sports-related injuries
• 62% of injuries occur during practices
• There are five times as many catastrophic football injuries in high school athletes as opposed to college athletes
• Cardiac and neurological injuries account for the predominance of sports related deaths.

The National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) and the Connecticut Athletic Trainers Association (CATA) are diligently trying to make youth sports safer. The NATA has assembled an alliance of medical organizations to address the issues surrounding youth sports safety at a summit meeting.

Locally, the CATA has been politically active in promoting legislation requiring automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) to be available at all high school sporting events. They are currently spearheading legislation regarding sports concussion management in Connecticut high school athletes.

“Pre-high school youth sports programs often do not provide adequate medical coverage,” said Vicky Graham, a certified athletic trainer and president-elect of the CATA. Personnel trained in first aid and CPR should be available at every youth sports league game and practice.

Commotio cordis, a fatal heart arrhythmia from direct trauma, is most commonly seen in lacrosse, hockey and baseball. AEDs should be required at all of these youth programs.

As youth sports programs schedule rules and coaching clinics in preparation for their season, a clinic on sports safety is imperative. These can be arranged by contacting the CATA at

Weightlifting Safety

The most dangerous phrase heard in the weight room of any gym is, “Don’t worry, I have it.” That usually means the person lifting the weight is self confident enough that they don’t need or wish to bother anyone to serve as a spotter.

Now that new year’s resolutions are in full swing, for many that includes cardio (treadmill, elliptical, rower) and resistive (Nautilus, Bowflex, free weights) workouts. Resistive exercise can be dangerous if certain precautions are not followed.

The basis of resistive exercise is to maximally exert a muscle so that it will gradually hypertrophy (enlarge) to handle increasing amounts of weight. This can be done in sudden short spurts with large amounts of weight or by increased repetitive movements with lighter weights.

Body builders typically prefer the first option, especially when bench pressing. In a bench press position, any loss of control of the weight can lead to disaster.

Stafon Johnson, a USC running back, was bench pressing in September when the weight fell on his throat, collapsing his trachea and obstructing his air flow. He missed most of the season and his voice hasn’t fully recovered.

Helpful tips before engaging in any resistive exercise include:

• Adequate warm up before lifting
• Know the amount of weight you can lift safely
• Stop if you feel pain or become lightheaded
• When performing any routine where you may be in danger if control of the weight is lost, always use one or two spotters.

Marc Nee, a personal trainer with “Training with Heart,” advises to always be prepared for the worst when lifting free weights. “If you really want to attempt to lift the maximum amount of weight, use a machine and leave the free weights alone,” he said.

Complete recovery possible from knee injury

On Sunday, Jan. 3, Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker made a routine catch and proceeded to elude potential tacklers. Unfortunately, his effort resulted in tearing two of the four main ligaments in his left knee.

A season-ending knee injury to a player of Welker’s magnitude prompts several questions from fans. Why did it happen? How will the injury be repaired? Will he be able to return to his previous level of performance?

The knee is the largest joint in the human body and joins the lower portion of the femur and upper portion of the tibia. Ligaments provide stability for the joint. When an athlete makes a sudden lateral move, the force placed on the joint is several times the athlete’s weight. Even slight instability can cause disruption of the ligaments.

Another factor is turf consistency. There are two important factors in adequate turf: resistance and friction. A slippery field or one with an inconsistent base can lead to disaster.

Torn ligaments often require surgical repair after swelling subsides. Any surgery of this nature requires an intense postoperative rehabilitation program.

The remaining question of possible return to previous performance levels is the most difficult to answer.

“Restoring the knee to its original integrity and an athlete returning to their pre-injury activity level are different issues,” said Dr. John Giacchetto, an orthopedic surgeon in Norwich who treats many athletes. “It is difficult to reconstruct the knee to the point where it has the same specifications regarding flexibility and range of motion but many athletes have returned to their previous levels of athletic performance.”

High-level athletes understand that injuries and rehabilitation are part of their profession. Considering Wes Welker’s injury and his work ethic, Patriots’ fans should expect a complete recovery.

Cheerleading is a sport and should be treated like one

On January 9-10, a sport considered by some to be among the most dangerous in America will be coming to the Mohegan Sun Arena. While initially sports fans would think of boxing, cage fighting or bull riding, the sport is actually cheerleading.

The Spirit Festival National Cheer and Dance Championships consist of 150 teams and 3,000 participants. The last cheerleading event hosted at Mohegan Sun resulted in 68 injuries with 10 of those requiring a visit to Backus Hospital.

As cheerleading continues to grow in popularity, so has the controversy surrounding issues of safety, regulation and sport status.

A sport is best defined as having at least 50% competitive activity. Without that designation, standard medical and safety requirements are waived.

While there is no central regulatory body for cheerleading, the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA) represents over 20,000 coaches.

“The principal role of the AACCA is to serve as a risk management resource by providing educational and rules seminars, and advocating for safety at all venues,” said Jim Lord, the AACCA executive director.

Unfortunately, the AACCA has no power of enforcement.

In 2008, the Catastrophic Sports Injury Research Center cited statistics demonstrating a disproportionate number of catastrophic injuries in cheerleading when compared to other women’s sports. This led some to unfairly dub cheerleading as the “most dangerous sport in America.” The data did not consider the number of injuries in relation to the millions of participants.

Fortunately, the Mohegan Tribe has not become engaged in this legal controversy. Instead, it regards cheerleading as a sport and provides what is among the safest venues for cheerleading in the United States.

Parents must always be mindful of what systems are in place at any sports venue in the event of catastrophe. Cheerleading is no exception.