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Ow! Doctors bracing for school surge in sports injuries, anxiety

Data shows more than 3.5 million sports injuries happen annually among youth. A Cone Health physician’s simple strategies can help you avoid the ER.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Back-to-school fanfare means back to the gymnasium, playground and football fields, 'scoring' many students an unforeseen first-week souvenir: an injury.

Johns Hopkins University reports more than 3.5 million children ages 14 and younger get hurt playing sports every year, and NC physicians are bracing for an increase in sports-related visits to pediatricians and emergency rooms this fall.


Cone Health sports medicine physician Shane Hudnall, MD, CAQSM, explained the most frequent student athlete ailments are muscle strains, ankle sprains, shin splints, concussions, stress fractures and acute fractures. 

He recommended student athletes consider a sports physical, prior to fall tryouts.


"A sports physical is focused on things that may affect your participation and health when exercising -- (it's a) 32-question history, blood pressure (screen), vision (check), musculoskeletal issues, heart health, for example," Hudnall explained.

He suggested parents always check with insurance about coverage, since most insurances cover only one physical per year regardless of whether it's a standard physical or a sports physical. 

"Many offices will also do sports physicals for a cash fee," he noted. 

He suggested parents schedule their child's sports physical six weeks before the season starts, in case the child needs an additional workup. The physical then is valid for approximately one year.


As schools resume instruction and launch tryouts in the hottest part of the year in NC, Hudnall affirmed heat illness is a big concern. Even with cooler temperatures this week, meteorologists predict a heat index in the mid-80s. Preparing the body to exercise in heat is key to comfort and safety.

Hudnall suggested student athletes:

  • Dress in light-colored, loose-fitting clothing
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Take breaks in the shade
  • Listen to the athletic trainers
  • Acclimate to the heat over a two-week period
  • Sit out if sick with a viral illness and / or fever
  • Know the symptoms of early heat illness (headache, dizziness, muscle cramps, nausea)


Mental health can, just as easily, foil a season before it begins. Getting through tryouts, Hudnall acknowledged, can be a big feat for many students.

Hudnall emphasized, "A little anxiety is good," but when it compounds and becomes debilitating, students could try the following techniques:

  • Meditation / breathing
  • Pep talking: trust in the hard work leading up to this point
  • Keep a routine
  • Remember the fun -- the reason why the sport is enjoyable


This school year begins amid a national conversation about CPR and AEDs, credited with saving the lives of Buffalo Bills star Damar Hamlin and, more recently, basketball star LeBron James' son Bronny James.

RELATED: Bronny James has a congenital heart defect that caused his cardiac arrest, spokesperson says

 In North Carolina, AEDs are not required in public schools, at the time of this article's publishing, though there is a new bill -- House Bill 852 -- to mandate them.

"More than 400,000 Americans die yearly from cardiac arrest," Hudnall said. 

He said if someone has a shockable rhythm, the survival chance drops by approximately 7% for every minute they are not defibrillated by an AED.

Cone Health offers CPR training based on class availability. Register by calling 336-832-7387.

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