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Epidemiology of varsity sports

Epidemiology of Varsity Sports

Varsity sports is in many schools as important as academics, especially in the United States. These schools rely a great deal on the success of their teams for financial stability and enrollment interest. The athletes as well take their sport very seriously, if only for the sake of their pride.

It therefore follows that each team strives to be the very best, and only 100% effort is enough. Unfortunately, when competition climaxes, more often than not injuries result.

This study is a synopsis of the data collected in a number of past articles concerned with injuries incurred by collegiate athletes in many different varsity sports. For the purpose of this study, an injury has been defined as any abnormal condition that has caused an athlete to be removed from practice or competition for one or more days, because performance has been impaired (Hanes and Murray, 1982). The following statistics will deal with injuries of collegiate sports incurred by athletes involved in Men's and Women's Basketball, Baseball, Gymnastics and Track and Field, Men's Soccer, and Wrestling, and Women's Field Hockey.


The study of the nature and extent of athletic injuries Occuring in Women's Basketball by Hanes and Murray in 1982 found an injury rate of 41.7 per 100 players. Of these injuries 56.9% were ankle sprains, 24.1% were muscle strains. 76.2% of the sprains and strains occurred to the lower extremities. Injured fingers ( which were the only upper extremity injuries) accounted for 14.3% of the injuries and 4.8% of the injuries were reported as facial.

All information for this study was collected through the use of injury forms completed by the coaches, and information forms by each player, injured or not.

In a separate study for the American Journal of Sports Medicine by Clarke and Buckley in 1980 on injuries incurred in collegiate Women's Basketball, there was an injury rate of 20.3 per 100 players. There was a reported incidence of 53% sprains, and 4% strains. 40% of all injuries sustained were to the lower extremities.

In the same study Clarke and Buckley found similar results in Men's Varsity Basketball to that of the Women's. The men reported 20.7 per 100 players suffering injuries, 54% of those being sprains, 6% being strains with 37% of the injuries Occuring to the lower extremity.

All the data collected by Clarke and Buckley was received from the National Athletic Injury/ Illness Recording System (NAIRS).


Clark and Buckley have also examined Men's and Women's Baseball in their study The reported injury rate for this particular sport was 9.2% (men's) and 8.7% (women's). Sprains occurred 37% and 40% respectively, strains accounted for 28% and 12%. Men's baseball saw 69% of the injuries in the lower extremity, women's baseball reported 82% of the injuries in the lower extremities.


Women's Field hockey had a similarly low injury rate according to Clarke and Buckley, at only 5.5%. Sprains once again were the most common injury, comprising 37% of the incidence rate, and strains made up 21%. As might be expected by the nature of the sport, the lower extremities received 72% of the injuries.


The incidence rate of the Men's and Women's Track and Field teams were 10% and 12% respectively. Although as Clarke and Buckley found, this sport alone saw different injuries come to the forefront. It was muscle strains that seemed most prevalent, Occuring 48% (men's) and 26% (women's) of the time. Sprains accounted for only 18% and 16% of the injuries. But as would seem fitting the men were inflicted with 72% of the injuries to the lower extremities, and the women 92%.


After a five-year study of two University wrestling teams, Snook (1982) found wrestling to have the highest incidence of injury of all those examined in this article, with an injury rate of 35.7 per 100 participants. The type of injury was fairly evenly divided between sprains (31.03%) and strains (27.58%) as it was between injuries to the upper (43%) and lower extremities (55%).


As should be expected, Men's soccer saw a very high incidence of injury to the lower extremities. According to Davis (1977) 85.02% of all injuries occurred to the legs and ankles, with sprains comprising 31.03% and strains comprising 27.58%. There was an overall injury rate of 33.21 per 100 players for his study. Clarke and Buckley similarly found that 76% of the injuries (an overall rate of 13.2%) occurred to the lower limbs, with 49% of those being sprains, and 12% strains.


According to Clarke and Buckley, Women's Gymnastics followed only Wrestling in amount of injuries. With an incidence rate of 28.4%, Gymnastics is one of the most dangerous sports in varsity athletics (within the scope of this study). 66% of the injuries were sprains and 17% were strains. Of the overall injury rate 67% occurred to the lower extremity. In contrast, Garrick and Requa found that sprains accounted for only 24% of the overall injury rate of 39%, while strains comprised 47%. Both however, were consistent in their findings of injury to the lower extremity (67% and 60% respectively).


It becomes evident as the statistics are revealed throughout this article that it is very difficult to compare such a wide variety of sports from an epidemiological point of view.

The differences between each in the potential injuries, mechanisms of injury and type of athlete typically suited for any given sport make it inappropriate to attempt to draw lines of comparison between them. If one were to look at the athlete playing for the Men's Baseball team and an athlete with the Men's Wrestling team, the differences in physical characteristics alone would make it hard to draw any feasible conclusions pertaining to causation, trends, or even with respect to methods of rehabilitation simply because of the drastic differences in conditioning programs, training methods, and intensity of competition.

This argument becomes even more pertinent when one begins to look at incidence rates of those injuries incurred in each sport which have thus far not been mentioned in this article, such as head, neck and spine injury, or something less drastic such as knee injuries. As Snook cites in his article, head, neck and spine injuries account for 12% of the overall incidence rate in wrestling. The nature of the sport predisposes the athlete to a greater risk of such an injury. When this is compared to baseball, whose incidence of head , neck and spine injury accounts for only 2% of the overall injuries it becomes apparent wherein the problems occur. Similarly this may be further illustrated by comparing the incidence of knee injuries between the two( 7% in baseball and 25.7% in wrestling).

Problems can even arise when comparing Men's and Women's teams of the same sport, simply because differences in physical characteristics of men and women. If we are to look to baseball once again, the incidence of knee injuries to men is reported in Clarke and Buckley's article as 7%, while knee injuries to women account for 19%. Large differences can also be observed in the incidence of fractures in male (7%) and female (25%) baseball players.

On the other hand, while a study such as this may be inappropriate for comparison, it does allow one to observe the potential hazards of many different sports and perhaps encourage those participating in such athletics to develop or improve on a conditioning program for a given sport, in order to minimize the risk that any such misfortune may occur.


Clarke, E. & Buckley, J. "Women's Injuries in Collegiate Sports". American Journal of Sports Medicine. Vol. 8, No. 3 (1980). pp188-93.

Davis, Michael Stewart. "The Nature and Incidence of Injuries to the Lower Extremity of College Soccer Players".Mar, 1977.

Hanes, A. & Murray, C. "Athletic Injuries Occuring in Women's Highschool Basketball". Sept, 1982.

Garrick, James G. "Women's Gymnastics Injuries".American Journal of Sports Medicine. Vol. 7, No. 4 (1979).pp. 261-64.

Snook, George A. "Injuries in Intercollegiate Wrestling".American Journal of Sports Medicine. Vol.10, No. 3 (1982).pp. 141-43.

Snook, George A. "Injuries in Women's Gymnastics".American Journal of Sports Injuries.Vol. 7, No. 4 (1979) pp.242-45.

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