THE DOCTOR IS IN – Avoiding summer sports injuries

Thursday, July 5th, 2012
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By North Hawaii Community Hospital staff

One of this summer’s funnier television commercials spoofs why some sports injuries should be avoided at all costs.

In the commercial, a hard-working young man is shown needing to “blow off steam.” So he plays a hard-charging game of racquetball. Suddenly he’s knocked down, smacked hard in the left eye by a rebounding shot. The narrator intones, “When you blow off steam, you get an eye patch. When you get an eye patch, people think you’re tough.”

And here the scene changes to a gang eyeing him with lethal intent.

“When people think you’re tough, they want to know how tough. When they want to know how tough, you end up in a ditch.” Flash to final scene — the young man lying prone in a ditch, barely conscious.

The punch line: “Don’t end up in a ditch. Get rid of cable TV,” etc. The last scene suggests the dangers, presumably, of wearing an eye patch, arrrgh.

Despite the joke, there is a real message behind the eye patch. Nationwide, during the summer months, people of all ages suffer thousands of injuries, facial and otherwise, while swimming, playing baseball or basketball, tossing a Frisbee, bike riding, or just having fun at the beach.

“These injuries can range from simple lacerations to facial fractures such as broken cheek bones and noses,” reports.“By taking some basic precautions you can minimize long lasting facial injuries, prevent costly medical problems and concentrate on simply enjoying summer time activities injury-free.”

The list of precautions are common sense suggestions, often forgotten in the heat of competition: Use the right equipment; pay attention; follow the rules; wear a helmet; don’t wear clothing that interferes with vision or movement; wear a face mask or eye protection if needed; do not dive into water less than nine feet deep; avoid uneven or unpaved surfaces when cycling, skateboarding or in-line skating.

Common sense rules are no-brainers. Ignoring one or more can increase your risk of suffering a sport-ending if not a life-threatening injury.

Just as big waves at an island beach can drown the unprepared or physically unfit, other sports activities increase the risk of a person suffering a truly serious, “gotta get to the emergency room” injury.

In May, team coaches, trainers and doctors gathered on Oahu for a conference on sports injuries common among Hawaii’s youth. The Hawaii Pacific Health’s Sports Medicine Symposium identified trends in dangerous injuries, and suggested ways to avoid most of them, according to a report by Hawaii News Now.

A Honolulu sports medicine physician, Dr. Jennifer King, noted that incidents of concussions are rising in youth contact sports, not because more people are suffering them, but because there is greater awareness among coaches and parents on what to look for in this dangerous injury.

“I think because the word is getting out, we’ve been very good about trying to educate parents and coaches about things to look for in head injuries,” Dr. King said. “And I think because of that, the numbers are rising.”

“It’s much more important to get these under control when the brain is immature, because the long term effects can be a lot worse,” Dr. King said.

A key recent finding from medical researchers studying concussions: A person doesn’t have to lose consciousness to suffer a dangerous concussion. If your head gets banged hard, see a doctor immediately. It is critically important to not fall asleep with a possible concussion until you have seen a doctor.

Nationally, sports-related injuries in 2007 accounted for 22 percent of hospital emergency department visits for children ages 5 to 17, reports health blogger Michele Cheplic. Blogging as MaliaMom, Cheplic was born and raised in Hilo but now lives in Wisconsin.

From that 2007 data, according to the latest “News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality,” boys had three times more emergency room visits to treat sports injuries than did girls, at 147 visits per 10,000 children versus 50 visits per 10,000 children in 2007.

But the research also found that teens were five times more likely than young children to be treated for sports injuries in emergency departments, at 154 visits per 10,000 15 to 17 year-olds compared 30 visits per 10,000 5 to 9 year-olds.

Of the injuries sustained by children, not all were serious. According to the study, most consisted of bruises, sprains and strains, arm fractures, or cuts and scrapes to the head, neck or chest.

Dedicated physicians and staff at North Hawaii Community Hospital’s orthopedic and emergency departments stand by to help with the treatment and recovery from summer sport injuries.

But before problems reach that stage, remember: before paddling into the surf, before sliding into second base, before running your first 10-k race in 20 years, make sure you are physically fit for the challenge. Warm up and stretch liberally before playing and drink plenty of fluids; avoid “sports” drinks that might have 1,000 percent higher levels of caffeine than a cup of regular Joe.

After all, there’s no sense stressing a body or heart that’s just looking for a little relaxing time playing a favorite sport.