Any parent of a college athlete knows the intense pride of seeing your child compete — and the nagging worry that he or she might suffer a serious injury …one that ends up being a setback in the classroom as well as on the field.
College sports injuries are common, and, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found, “sports-related injuries can have a substantial impact on the long-term health of student-athletes.” 1
So what’s a parent to do? You would never think to tell your child to quit the sport they love. It’s such an important part of who they are. Still, there are things you can do to minimize risk and protect your student-athlete.
How Frequent Are Injuries in College Sports?
If you look at all college sports, for every 1,000 athlete-exposures to potential injury (i.e. one athlete’s participation in one competition or one practice), there are six injuries.1 This sounds like a pretty low rate until you think about how often student-athletes actually are exposed to injury. A roster of 30 players, practicing 6 days a week for a 10-week season and playing 15 games, equals 2,250 athlete-exposures. That means at least 12 or 13 injuries in a season are likely.
Injury rates vary dramatically by sport and by gender, however. Men’s college football, unsurprisingly, has the highest rate of injuries: nearly 40 per 1,000 athlete-exposures, according to the CDC’s college athlete injuries statistics. In women’s sports, gymnastics had the highest overall injury rate (10.4 per 1,000), although soccer had the highest competition injury rate (17.2 per 1,000).1
What Are the Most Common College Sports Injuries?
College students suffer more injuries during practice, but injuries sustained during games tend to be more serious, the CDC found.1 The most common competition injuries are:
• Sprains and strains. Nearly one-half (46 percent) of injuries are sprains or strains. What’s the difference? A sprain is the stretching or tearing of a ligament, which connects bones; a strain means stretching or tearing a muscle or tendon.2 More than half of these injuries require surgery, the CDC says.
• Contusion. The next most common college sports injury is a contusion, which occurs when a muscle sustains a direct impact. While contusion is sometimes synonymous with bruise, contusions can be serious injuries that require careful treatment.
• Fractures, stress fractures, dislocations, and subluxations. A fracture can result from a one-time injury to the bone (acute fracture) or from repeated stress (stress fracture).3 Dislocation is the separation of a joint, while subluxation is a partial dislocation.
• Concussion. More than 7 percent of college sports injuries are concussions. Concussions in sports are sometimes brushed off, but they can be very serious. A concussion is a traumatic brain injury, usually caused by a blow to the head. Most people recover fully from a single concussion, but it’s important to take time to rest and heal.4 Repeated concussions can lead to post-concussion syndrome, associated with impaired memory and thinking skills.5
What Can You Do to Protect Your College Athlete?
Make sure your child understands the specific risks of their sport. Does your college rugby player know that even subconcussive head injuries can lead to later problems with brain function?6 Or, is your athletic daughter aware that female soccer and basketball players have a much higher incidence of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears?7
Talk about practical ways to reduce college sports injuries. Working with an athletic trainer to develop a stretching and sport-specific strength training program can help prevent some injuries, like sprains and strains. To avoid ACL tears, for example, soccer players can try jump training, which teaches athletes to land with flexed knees. Or, a functional movement screen can identify certain corrective exercises to try.8
Make sure your child immediately reports all head injuries. A 2014 study in the Journal of Neurotrauma found that for every concussion a college football player reported to his coach, he failed to mention 21 other head injuries or symptoms.9 Athletes can be reluctant to report head injuries for fear of being pulled from the action and letting down teammates or coaches. But acknowledging a concussion, and taking a break from the game, is vitally important for proper recovery. If your college athlete describes any symptoms that could stem from a concussion, insist he or she see a doctor right away. “You can’t replace a brain,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has said.
Protect your child’s future with tuition insurance. If your child suffers a sports injury so significant that he or she must withdraw from school for the semester, don’t automatically assume you’ll receive a tuition refund from the university. Make sure the investment you’ve made in higher education is protected. Consider the benefits of tuition insurance, which can provide reimbursement up to the full cost of tuition and fees in case a covered student has to withdraw because of a covered illness or injury, or another covered reason. Learn more about tuition insurance.