The 5 most dangerous sports for girls

Girls' sports are on the rise. But as more of them step into a saddle, lace up skates, or put on a jersey, sports-related injuries are spiraling out of control.

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.


Is your little girl shooting to be the next Lisa Leslie or Candace Parker? It wouldn't be a surprise, given that basketball has become the country's most popular girls' sport. More than 450,000 girls compete in organized play annually.

While sprains and strains are the most common injuries, head injuries are on the rise. A recent study revealed that the number of TBIs in female ball players increased 70 percent over a 10-year period to almost 12,000 injuries per year. In effect, this means that the number of TBIs has tripled for basketball-playing girls.  

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Here's something not to cheer about: Cheerleading accidents account for 65 percent of all catastrophic injuries in girls’ high school athletics. This number is particularly precarious when you learn that only 10 percent of our nation's three million female high-school athletes are cheerleaders.

The number of emergency room visits by cheerleaders has tripled since the mid-1980s, mostly due to increasingly dangerous stunts without proper protection or spotting. Dr. Dawn Comstock reveals that cheerleading is more dangerous than gymnastics because the stunts are performed in a setting with less protection: football fields and basketball courts instead of matted and padded gymnastics facilities.

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Horseback riding

While trotting around a ring on horseback seems a graceful and even peaceful sport, there are grave risks. According to Dr. Gloria M. Beim, horseback riding is over 20 times more dangerous than motorcycle riding. While motorcyclists average an accident every 7,000 hours of riding, equestrians average an accident every 350 hours of riding. Most accidents occur from falling off a horse, which cause traumatic and serious injuries to the head and spinal-cord area and can result in paralysis.

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Future Mia Hamms and Brandi Chastains should proceed with caution when practicing their headers and penalty kicks. Statistics published by the NCAA reveal that concussions account for 11 percent of injuries in women’s soccer. Only half that rate occurs in men’s football — a sport that's traditionally the leader in concussion injuries. While concussions often occur from heading the ball, they're more likely to be sustained from collision with another player or the ground.

Photo credit: KG Sand Soccer

Field hockey

Though field hockey players wear eye gear and mouth guards, this gear is insufficient for preventing injuries. Female field hockey players have a 62 percent risk of sustaining three or more injuries, making it the sport mostly likely to have players sustain multiple injuries or reinjure themselves. Chronic injuries include lower-back pain; hip, knee, or ankle tendinitis; and stress fractures in the lower extremities. The majority of head and face injuries (90 percent) are a result of players being hit by a field hockey stick or ball.

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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 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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