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Dr. Karen Liller scores with sports injury prevention research in Hillsborough County

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USF College of Public Health’s Dr. Karen Liller, professor in the Department of Community and Family Health, collaborated with Dr. Barbara Morris, director of sports medicine and performance at Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel, and other researchers including PhD student Yingwei Yang, to examine and report sports injuries among high school athletes in Florida.

Her report, “Analysis of Sports Injuries among High School Athletes in 18 West Central Florida Schools,” was published in the Florida Public Health Review in 2016.

Dr. Karen Liller (Photo by Caitlin Keough).

Dr. Karen Liller (Photo by Caitlin Keough).

The project began in 2007 when certified athletic trainers (ATCs) were hired and trained by researchers from the USF Sports Medicine and Athletic-Related Trauma Institute (SMART) to collect and report injury findings from high school athletes.

Schools were chosen for the study based on their willingness to participate, distance to health services, risk for injuries based on sports offered and their standing on having an ATC.

During the study, researchers not only counted the number of injuries that occurred for a certain sport, but also the amount of exposure the athletes had. Sports that have more practices and competitions allow for more exposure to injury risk, so factoring in the exposure rate gives researchers a better understanding of those sports with the greatest number of injuries.

The results of the latest published study for the 2014-2015 academic year showed that the leading rate of injury per 1,000 athlete-exposures for practice was for football, followed by men’s cheerleading, and women’s wrestling. For competitions, the injury rate per 1,000 athlete-exposures was greatest for football, followed by men’s lacrosse, and men’s wrestling.

While the study has lasted for 10 years, Liller did find differences between the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 academic years.

“There were some differences, we had 15 high schools participate in 2013-2014 compared to 18 in 2914-2015. Also in 2013-2014 the leading rate of injury for practice was for girls’ lacrosse but in 2014-2015 it was football,” she said.

Differences also included the number of injuries in boys versus girls in sports played by both. In the 2013-14 report, girls’ soccer showed a greater injury rate than boys’ soccer, however in the 2014-2015 study there were no significant differences in the rates of injury in sports that are played by both genders.”

What they did find, though, that has been prevalent throughout the years is that overall boys had a significantly higher injury rate for injuries in competitions and in practices.

“As we have seen through the years, most athletes injured are males and the body parts that are most likely to be injured usually include the head and face, knees, ankles leading to concussions, ligament sprains and muscle strains,” Liller said.

While this was the last year of the study for high school athletes, Liller and Morris were awarded a National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) grant that corresponds to their previous research on sports injuries.

They are rounding out year one of their first year of the grant, which began in May 2016, and have been focusing on children ages 5-11 who play sports in recreational or community leagues in Hillsborough County. They are specifically covering football, girls’ and boys’ soccer, baseball, and softball leagues.

“We’re not seeing nearly as many injuries as we saw in the high school,” Liller said. “There are some reasons for that— we don’t have as many athletes to observe and these children are younger so they aren’t as strong as the high school athletes and aren’t playing as hard.”

They are finding injuries though and the ATCs have performed over 500 baseline concussion tests using the IMPACT pediatric concussion tool.  This was a new addition to the study. They have also conducted a few post-concussion tests and have been able to compare the values with baseline findings. The team submitted their early findings to the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting and hopes to publish year one by July 2017.

Liller and Morris have another year of the study with children ages 5-11 and will be applying for future funding.  They will be making injury prevention recommendations for coaches and recreational league managers.

“What was helpful from the high school study was that it spurred the development of our new study on  younger children.  Dr. Morris believed that there was a need to monitor their injuries and I agreed,” Liller said. “These young children have been studied much less frequently.”

***

Liller,K., Wong-Jacobsom, S., Morris, B., & Yang, Y. (2016). Analysis of sports injuries among high school athletes in 18 West Central Florida Schools. Florida Public Health Review, 13: 121-127.

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health

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