Broken bones and hospital visits: new study reveals the danger of kids' sport

On average, more than 28,000 children each year end up in hospital with a broken bone from playing sport, a new study has revealed.

Max

Max in action on the football field. Source: Supplied

Preview above: Insight looks at why more kids are getting sports injuries and what can be done to prevent them. Full ep. on SBS On Demand.

When 15-year-old Max Braun went down in a tackle on the soccer field, his parents weren’t worried.

Watching from the sidelines, his mum, Irina, recalls waiting for him to get back up and continue the game. But on this occasion, he didn’t get up.

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“It’s quite a scary moment,” Irina told Insight.

“He was in such a lot of pain, your heart drops immediately.”

Max, who was playing a game of club-level football, lost consciousness. He was rushed to hospital in an ambulance where it was discovered he had dislocated and broken his ankle. During surgery doctors were required to insert a pin in his ankle to keep the two bones straight.

“Initially you really worry about the severity of the fracture, what it entails, what is the recovery going to look like? … What is the long-term damage from the injury?”

Max
Max and his mum Irina. Source: Supplied


Broken bones: the single biggest cause of hospitalisation

Max is just one of the thousands of children in Australia who break their bones while playing sport.

On average, more than 28,000 children each year end up in hospital with a broken bone from playing sport, a from Macquarie University shows.

The researchers analysed data over a 10-year period on injuries suffered by children up to 16 years old. They found broken bones to be the single biggest cause of hospitalisation accounting for 41 per cent of all paediatric trauma admissions. Of 686,409 children admitted to hospital over 10 years as a result of an injury, the largest number (287,646) were hospitalised for fractures.

The researchers discovered that fractures cost the Australian health system about $73.2 million a year.

“There’s emotional distress, the fact that parents have to take time off work and the child misses school,” said the study’s lead researcher, Associate Professor Rebecca Mitchell - from the Australian Institute of Health Innovation (AIHI) at Macquarie.

“In extreme cases, the child might face a life of disability and chronic pain.”



The five most common fractures were the forearm (48.1 per cent), shoulder and upper arm (14.1 per cent), lower leg including the ankle (11.3 per cent), wrist and hand (10.4 per cent), and the skull and face (nine per cent).

The research also found that twice as many boys as girls were hospitalised for fractures – around 820 hospitalisations per 100,000 boys, compared to girls with around 416 hospitalisations per 100,000.

“This is because boys are more likely to engage in risk-taking type behaviors and they are more likely to play contact sports than girls,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell hopes the research, which was presented to the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, will improve children’s safety while playing sport.

“You don't want them [children] to grow up with a sedentary lifestyle,” she said.

“It's about encouraging them to take risks, but not extreme risk. We need to set some boundaries, understand the hazards and manage the risks.”

Mitchell and her team have also joined other academics in advising the Department of Health on a new National Injury Prevention Plan.

The government’s draft plan will help sporting clubs and schools develop safety policies and practices including the compulsory use of protective equipment, improve the education of players and parents, maintain sporting fields, as well as develop new refereeing rules and coaching standards.

Max
Max in action on the football field. Source: Supplied


Fighting fit

Irina says she would like to see improvements in sport safety - especially pitch management and better medical training for coaches. But she’s realistic about what is feasible at the lower level of kids sport.

“I don’t know if that’s asking too much of your local soccer club because it’s all done on a volunteering basis, how are you going to fund this?”

For Max, who sustained his injury in April this year, he is already back on the soccer field.

The pins in his ankle were taken out six weeks after they were inserted. He then spent six weeks on crutches followed by a period of building up the strength in his ankle before he could rejoin his teammates.

“I love watching him play but I’m really, really worried every time he goes into a tackle …. I do worry now that he might end up in another tackle and we’re back in square one again.”


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4 min read
Published 19 August 2020 at 5:32pm
By Gemma Wilson