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Preventing Injuries in High School Lacrosse

September 10, 2014

Lacrosse—it’s a fast-paced, action-packed sport that has become increasingly popular throughout the United States. Originating from Native American cultures, it is one of America’s oldest sports—and now, it is also one of its fastest-growing. With its combination of running, catching, throwing and exciting scoring, more and more kids and teens are beginning to take an interest in lacrosse and play it competitively.

While the popularity of sports like football, baseball and soccer are still extremely prevalent at the high school level, lacrosse is beginning to make its way into that group, with more than 170,000 high school students playing annually. That’s a huge increase within just the last 10 years.

Injuries on the Rise

However, with a rise in popularity also comes a rise in injuries. Although much attention has been placed on concussions and injuries in other major sports, injuries are becoming a bigger issue in lacrosse as well. In fact, a new study recently discovered just how prevalent these injuries really are.

Researchers found that for every 10,000 lacrosse games and practices held, approximately 20 injuries occur. And among all high school lacrosse players, boys account for 67 percent of all injuries. The reason for this is mainly because the rules of the boys’ game are far different than the rules for the girls’ game. In boys’ lacrosse, full contact is allowed between both players and sticks, making the game much more aggressive and hard-hitting.

Because of the fast-paced nature of the game, some of the most common injuries among high school lacrosse players are ligament sprains and muscle strains, which account for 38 percent of all injuries. While these are common injuries in any sport that involves sprinting, planting and cutting, lacrosse players are at an even higher risk for these injuries because the game requires rapid changes in speed and direction.

Concussions Becoming a Cause for Concern

Although sprains and strains are some of the more common injuries in lacrosse, your child’s risk for injury doesn’t end there. Recently, there’s been a lot of focus on concussions in football, but concussions are becoming extremely prevalent in lacrosse as well. In fact, the study that I mentioned earlier found that concussions account for 22 percent of all injuries, making them the second most common injuries in high school lacrosse.

This is especially true during your child’s game. The risk of suffering a concussion is nearly seven times higher during a game than during practice. And as you might’ve guessed, much of this is due to the aggressive nature of the game and the amount of contact that’s allowed during play. When you’re running at full speed with a lacrosse stick, the potential for a collision of some sort—either with a ball, a stick or another person—goes up dramatically. Not only that, but athletes have evolved to become bigger, stronger and faster, increasing the force generated with contact.

Should Girls Be Required to Wear Helmets During Lacrosse Games?

As I mentioned earlier, the rules in girls’ lacrosse are quite different than the rules in the boys’ game. While the boys are allowed to have full-body contact, girls are not. Because of this, girls are only required to wear protective eyewear and mouth guards. But even though contact isn’t permitted, that doesn’t change the fact that injuries—and concussions—are still common in girls’ lacrosse.

With concussions on the rise, a debate has surfaced: Should the girls be required to wear helmets like the boys are? Unfortunately, the answer is not so simple.

Many believe that helmets could decrease the number of concussions and head injuries among players. This may be true, but the reality is that we don’t have enough evidence to support or confirm this yet. In fact, most research has found that helmets can help decrease head injuries like cuts, bumps and bruises, but not concussions.

On the other hand, some parents, coaches and doctors are concerned that putting a helmet on an athlete in a limited-contact sport may cause that athlete to be more aggressive and less cautious about sustaining an injury. This argument has been made many times in recent years regarding football players using their helmets as weapons.

Preventing Injuries in Lacrosse

If your son or daughter plays lacrosse, it’s important to know how to reduce the risk for injury. Here are some tips to help keep your child in the game:
  • Complete a proper, sport-specific warm-up before practices or games.
  • Always ensure that you are wearing the right protective equipment and that all equipment fits properly.
  • Stay hydrated throughout the practice or game.
  • All players, coaches and officials should be held accountable to ensure that the rules of the game, especially those that limit contact, are being followed.
  • Athletes should be encouraged to report injuries and only return to play after being evaluated by a doctor. Don’t let a small injury become a big injury.
  • Any athlete who shows signs or symptoms of a concussion should not be allowed to return to play on the day of the injury at any level.
For more information about preventing injuries in lacrosse, visit the US Lacrosse website. Or to learn more about concussions, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.