Upper Quarter Injury Rates and Risk in United States High School Athletes Prior To and During the Prolonged Sport Stoppage

Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2023 Apr 1;18(2):409-418. doi: 10.26603/001c.71353. eCollection 2023.


Background: Upper quarter injuries are a serious problem in high school sports. The distinctive differences in males and females and within sports concerning specific upper quarter body parts necessitates the need to evaluate these injuries across these groups. The COVID-19 pandemic has created an opportunity to evaluate the potential added burden abrupt and prolonged sport stoppage had on upper quarter injury risk.

Hypothesis/purpose: To 1) describe and compare upper quarter injury rates and risk in high school athletes in the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic school years; 2) examine injuries by gender, sport, injury type, and location of injury.

Methods: An ecological study of the athletes from 176 high schools over six states, matching high schools between 2019-2020 (19-20) and 2020-2021 (20-21) years was performed. Injuries were reported by at least one high school athletic trainer assigned to each school into a centralized database and data collected from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2021. Injury rates were calculated per 1,000 athletes per academic year. Interrupted time series models assessed the incidence ratio between academic years.

Results: A total of 98,487 athletes from all sports participated in 19-20 and 72,521 in 20-21. Upper quarter injury rates increased in from 19-20 [41.9 (40.6, 43.1)] to 20-21 [50.7 (48.1, 51.3)]. Upper quarter injury risk [1.5 (1.1, 2.2)] was greater in 20-21 compared to 19-20. Females did not demonstrate increased injury rates between 19-20 [31.1 (29.4, 32.7)] to 20-21 [28.1 (26.4, 30.0)]. Males reported increased injury rates from 19-20 [50.3 (48.5, 52.2)] to 20-21 [67.7 (65.2, 70.2)]. Increased injury for the shoulder, elbow, and hand were reported in 20-21. Collision, field, and court upper quarter injury rates were increased in 20-21.

Discussion: Upper quarter injury rates and injury risk were greater during the 2020-2021 school year than in the prior year. Males demonstrated increased upper quarter injury rates, while females did not. Return to play protocols for high school athletes should be considered following abrupt sport stoppage.

Level of evidence: 2.

Keywords: Coronavirus; Interrupted Time Series; Loading; Natural Experiment; Upper Extremity.