Epidemiology of High School Sports-Related Injuries Resulting in Medical Disqualification: 2005-2006 Through 2013-2014 Academic Years

Am J Sports Med. 2016 Nov;44(11):2925-2932. doi: 10.1177/0363546516644604. Epub 2016 May 10.


Background: Although rare, season- or career-ending injuries in young athletes are concerning because they can result in time lost from sport participation and school, social costs, and economic costs of medical care.

Purpose: To describe rates and patterns of medically disqualifying (MDQ) injuries among United States high school athletes overall and by sport, sex, type of athletic activity, and mechanism.

Study design: Descriptive epidemiological study.

Methods: Sports-related injury data on high school athletes were collected during the 2005-2006 through 2013-2014 academic years from a large national sample of United States high schools via High School Reporting Information Online (RIO). MDQ injuries were defined as season- or career-ending injuries.

Results: From 2005-2006 through 2013-2014, High School RIO captured 59,862 total injuries including 3599 MDQ injuries (6.0% of all injuries). Most MDQ injuries (60.4%) occurred in competition. Football had the highest injury rate (26.5 per 100,000 athlete-exposures), followed by gymnastics (18.6) and wrestling (17.9). MDQ injury rates were higher among girls in the sex-comparable sports of basketball (rate ratio [RR], 1.6; 95% CI, 1.3-2.0), cross-country (RR, 2.6; 95% CI, 1.0-7.5), soccer (RR, 1.6; 95% CI, 1.3-1.9), and track and field (RR, 2.6; 95% CI, 1.7-4.0). Player-player contact (48.2%) was the most common MDQ injury mechanism. The most commonly injured body site was the knee (33.7%). The most common MDQ injury diagnosis was sprains/strains (35.9%); the most common specific MDQ injury was knee sprains/strains (25.4%), with the anterior cruciate ligament being the most commonly injured knee structure. Among boys, fracture was the most common diagnosis in 3 sports, and sprain/strain was the most common in 6 sports. Among girls, sprain/strain was the most common diagnosis in 9 sports, and fracture was the most common only in softball.

Conclusion: MDQ injuries vary by sport, sex, and type of athletic activity and occur most frequently as a result of player-player contact. These findings should prompt additional research into the development, implementation, and evaluation of targeted injury prevention efforts.

Keywords: adolescent; concussion; fracture; ligaments.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Athletic Injuries / classification
  • Athletic Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Athletic Injuries / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Students
  • United States / epidemiology