The 5 most dangerous sports for boys

While team sports help keep boys healthy and active, there are also dangers. Learn which sports are the riskiest - and how to keep your son safe.

By Lauren Shanley

How dangerous is your child's sport?

Every year, more than 135,000 children and teens nationwide find themselves in emergency rooms due to sports-related accidents. The most common diagnosis? Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), which are caused by bumps, blows, or jolts to the head — all of which can disrupt the normal function of the brain.

According to Safe Kids USA, of the 3.5 million children treated for sports injuries in 2009, and over 40 percent of TBIs in children were sports-induced. While TBIs can range from mild to severe, all should be taken seriously. The majority of TBIs are concussions, which is when the brain moves inside the skull and can even bang against the skull bone. Such intensive cerebral trauma can cause some brain cells to excrete neurotransmitters, in effect flooding the brain with chemicals that inhibit learning and memory, resulting in confusion, blurred vision, and memory loss.

The following five team sports are the most dangerous. While team sports provide a wealth of emotional, social, and physical benefits for kids, it's important to provide your young athlete with the proper protective gear and to teach your child to follow game regulations to avoid brain trauma and other serious injuries.

 Photo credit: mistahTee

Football

With about one million high schoolers in organized play, football has long been America's most popular sport — and its most dangerous. This collision sport's safety record is not good, with nearly twice the injuries of basketball — our country's second most popular sport. High school football players are most at risk. Primarily because of their inexperience and smaller stature, high schoolers are twice as likely to be injured as college players.

But high school athletes aren’t the only ones getting hurt. The numbers for young players is sobering: It's estimated that every year, doctors treat 389,000 musculoskeletal injuries in players ages five to 14. Recent studies have also revealed an epidemic of extensive neck and head injuries, including concussions and football-related TBIs, which can lead to memory problems, concentration issues, speech impediments, and headaches.

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Basketball

Is your son a budding LeBron James or Michael Jordan? Then make sure he stretches before practicing those jump shots and layups because this sport can spur serious strains and sprains in the lower (and upper) extremities. In fact, one study showed that almost a quarter of all basketball-related injuries involve the ankle.

Basketball is one of the only sports in which male ball players are more likely to be hospitalized than their female counterparts. Of the more than 375,000 basketball injuries that require visits to the emergency room every year, 75 percent are sustained by adolescent boys. What's more, limbs and ligaments are not the sole concern: basketball-related TBIs have increased 70 percent in the past 10 years.

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Soccer

Over the past 30 years, participation in high school soccer has increased five times over — and this intensely physical sport only shows signs of increasing in popularity. But future Pelés and Beckhams would do well to proceed with some caution, with high school players sustaining some 400,000 injuries a year. Soccer-playing boys are at highest risk for ankle sprains as well as thigh and upper leg strains. Additionally, knee injuries — that can end a budding career — account for nearly a third of all soccer-related surgeries. But the body part yet again at great risk? Not surprisingly, the brain. Approximately two out of three soccer injuries that came from boys heading the ball were classified as concussions.

Photo credit: {Carol Elliott}

Baseball

America's beloved national pastime has more contact injuries than one would expect. The majority of players' injuries are due to contact with a ball, bat, or another player. Though the rate of baseball injuries has decreased over the past 10 years, one study shows that the severity of injuries is greater for boys.

Of the injuries caused by being hit by a batted ball, four in 10 caused fractures, lacerations, or concussions. There are even reports of sustaining a coma from a batted ball and hemorrhaging in the brain after being hit by a bat. (The reason? Failing to wear the protective gear required by the fielding team.) Baseball also sees the most over-use injuries. Boys who start in Little League report the highest injury rate in elbows, mostly due to repetitive pitching and improper technique.

Photo credit: Brett Northrop

Lacrosse

Lacrosse is the fastest-growing high school sport in the nation. In the last few years, varsity lacrosse teams have increased 200 percent nationwide. As its popularity has grown, so has its injured lists. This collision sport is responsible for injuries in ankles, upper legs, and knees. An estimated one in every 10 injuries sustained during lacrosse games and practices is classified a concussion — the sport's most common above-the-waist injury. Most worrisome, however, is the rising rate of commotio cordis in teenage male lacrosse players, in which a nonpenetrating blow to the chest from a shot causes ventricular fibrillation, which can result in death despite an otherwise healthy heart.

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Preventing injuries

These five team sports are not the only athletics that put players at risk for TBIs and other serious injuries. Everything from gymnastics to ice hockey has high concussion rates, too. To prevent injury in your child's sport, follow the safety tips at stopsportsinjuries.org. Always make sure your child wears proper protective gear — especially during practice. Some 62 percent of sports-related injuries occur during practice, yet only one out of three parents reports taking the same game-day safety precautions for practice.

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