Researchers look to prevent youth sports injuries at PSU summer camps

October 19, 2012

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- As the popularity of competitive youth sports increases, participation in summer sport camp programs hosted at large universities also increases. At Penn State, for example, more than 44,000 adolescents, ages 10 to 17, enrolled in 80 summer camps focused on 28 different sports between 2008 and 2011.

"The nature of sport camp participation can be competitive and intensive, and it can expose participants to increased risk of injury," said John Vairo, an instructor in the Departments of Kinesiology and Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, and the director of Sports Health Care for Penn State Sport Camps. "However, little is known about the incidence of injury and illness among participants at university-based youth sport camps."

Along with Daria Oller, graduate student in kinesiology, Vairo and his colleagues in the Departments of Kinesiology and Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, and in Intercollegiate Athletics conducted a retrospective, descriptive epidemiological study in which they calculated the incidence of injury and illness incurred at Penn State Sport Camps over a four-year span (2008-11).

In medical documentation logs, Penn State athletic trainers and athletic training students documented all instances of injury/illness, as well as when a camp participant was referred and transported to a medical facility. The researchers conducted statistical analyses to investigate trends by sport and by gender.

Per 100 camp participants, the team found that the incidence rate of injury for golf was 0.2; for cheerleading it was 2.9; for football it was 6.4; for swimming it was 13.6; for tennis it was 16.3; for wrestling it was 23.2; for ice hockey it was 25.8; and for rugby it was 72.0. Furthermore, lower body injuries comprised the majority of injuries for males and females. Males participating in basketball or soccer were more likely to sustain joint injuries, while males participating in football were more likely to sustain muscle/tendon injuries.

The team also found that male camp participants comprised the majority of referrals compared to female camp participants. In addition, University Health Services accounted for nearly half of all referrals, and the emergency department at Mount Nittany Medical Center accounted for over one quarter of all referrals. Despite the great number of camp participants (500), particularly those in contact and collision sports, less than 3 percent of all injuries warranted an emergency room visit, which is most likely due to the sports health care services rendered on site by Penn State athletic training personnel.

The team presented its findings at local, state, regional and national professional conferences, including the 2012 American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and National Athletic Trainers' Association, in an effort to raise awareness of injuries and illness sustained at youth sport camps.

"Our goal is to use these data to advance our own Penn State Sport Camps by providing them with a best-practices approach, while also using the information as a conduit to advocate for the widespread adoption of policies, procedures and protocols to help guide sports health care services at youth sport camps around the country," Vairo said.

Currently, Vairo and his colleagues are in the process of partnering with professional athletic training and sports medicine groups to generate an awareness campaign to educate institutional administrators and sports medicine professionals, and to promote the adoption of appropriate policies, procedures and protocols to help guide evidence-based administrative and clinical decisions in support of youth sports safety. The research group is also in the process of analyzing data from a related prospective study conducted this past summer.

"The dissemination of this information is of considerable importance given the number of youths participating in sports and the rising incidence of casualties incurred by youths related to sports participation -- for example, through heat stress or concussion," Vairo said. "This is emphasized by the fact that the literature currently provides limited information on guiding institutional administrators and sports medicine professionals on how to best prepare and prevent injury/illness at youth sport camps. It also highlights the novel approach our University takes to ensure youth sport safety and health-related quality of life."

Other Penn State people involved with the work include Wayne Sebastianelli, director of sports medicine; W.E. Buckley, professor of kinesiology; Renee Messina, instructor of kinesiology; and Alicia Montalvo, graduate student in kinesiology.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 26, 2012